"Keilberth here conducts the first after-war Lohengrin at Bayreuth, at 1953. It was a huge success and this recording, although in 'old' mono sound, tells you why. From the very start Keilberth takes attentive command of both score and orchestra and his singers follow - Eleanor Steber is lovely and rather subtle at moments, listen to her pledge to Lohengrin in act 1 - just the way we want Elsa, in fact I don't think her performance has been surpassed since, while Wolfgang Windgassen, probably one of the greatest heldentenors of the post war era - his Tristan for example, is fabulous - is suitably heroic, yet has his gentler and more intimate moments as well. He takes a few liberties with the score, but I forgive him everything. The wedding scene being a perfect example, where both performers sings straight to your heart. Steber greatly captures Elsa's slowly growing love/anxiousness - all the more moving against Windgassens perfectly idiomatic Lohengrin. The role of Ortrud is taken by Astrid Varnay, likewise a fantastic Wagner singer. Her dramatic skills and rather meaty tone must convince everyone that she's a venomous witch to believe in. (Extra information: Varnay was the teacher of Anja Silja - later to sing Senta against Theo Adam's Dutchman - in this recording Adam makes a minor role as a 'brabantische edle'.) Greindl and Uhde takes the other main male roles, and they both gives credible performances. Uhde's Telramund is amongst the very finest available, psychologically believable above all, and his duet with Ortrud in act 2 is fantastic. All in all a very fine performance with very fine singers. The chorus is maybe not as 'tight' as one would expect, but that's a minor backdraw to a otherwise great performance. The only real backdraw is the old mono sound, but the digital new transfers are well done, making much of little. Many newer versions outshines this recording for that sole matter, but hardly any if considering the singing and conducting. This is a real Bayreuth performance, well recommended.
The included booklet gives you full information about this fact and much other 'gossip' of the history and intrigues of post-war Bayreuth, as well as the full text. "
A most essential LOHENGRIN!
Gregory E. Foster | Portland, ME, USA | 07/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a lot of my reviews "run on", I will try to keep this short. (There are notations, also, at the end of this review.)
It would be 1953 before "Lohengrin" would be produced again at Bayreuth after it's last performance there in 1937 under Heinz Tietjen with Marcel Wittrisch (Lohengrin), Maria Muller (Elsa), Ludwig Hoffmann (Heinrich, Jaro Prohaska (Telramund) and Margarete Klose, (Otrud).
Joseph Keilberth was chosen to conduct the new production designed by Wolfgang Wagner, with Wilhelm Pitz chorus master. The singers were Wolfgang Windgassen (Lohengrin), Eleanor Steber (Elsa), Josef Greindl (Heinrich), Hermann Uhde (Telramund), and Astrid Varnay (Otrud).
Looking at this list of performers will, I assume, let you know what you should expect for a "performance"; and I am most certain that you will not be disappointed!
Of course, we're listening to early 1950's monophonic sound, so you must make an exception for that. What you will hear is:
*The Young Windgassen, in his first performance at Bayreuth, still in youthful fresh voice, singing as you've probably never heard him before. *The most beautiful, innocent, and truly heartfelt Elsa perhaps ever committed to "tape"...perhaps the next best ones would be Rysanek's, Grummer's and that of Anja Silja. Steber's performance truly is the most beautiful, perfectly imagined Elsa I have ever heard, bar none. *Greindl's beautifully rich and gravelly-voiced Heinrich is just perfect--exactly as you would imagine this king to sound. *Hermann Uhde's commandingly sung Telramund is simply one of the strongest performances of the role I have ever experienced. *Astrid Varnay! Well, the best way to describe her is the most evil Otrud that there ever was! She simply is a knockout and a perfect match for Uhde's Telramund! *All the lesser roles are first class, also.
This recording truly represents the best Wagnerian singers the world had to offer after the War, and this first "Lohengrin", in the hands of Wolfgang Wagner, Wilhelm Pitz, and Joseph Keilberth was a long talked-about piece for years after, and truthfully, still is.
Keilberth steps up to the podium, and there is NO doubt that he has complete mastery of the orchestra, and Wagner's score. His conducting here is not a "Keilberth" event (like von Karajan's, for instance), but an honest, true reading of Wagner's score, as written, and Maestro Keilberth "stands back" to let that shine through. Here we have, even in the dated 1950's sound, a true, carefully and honestly rendered, account of Wagner's magnificent score. Backing this all up, of course, is Wilhelm Pitz's as always wonderful command of the chorus.
While there are other recordings that must come first, this recording simply is an absolute necessity in your collection...this recording "wills" you to listen to it again and again! Trust me! ~operabruin
(Other recordings that Cannot be neglected are: *Sawalisch, Bayreuth, 1962, Thomas, Silja, Crass, Vinay, Varnay *Cluytens, Bayreuth, 1958, Konya, Rysanek, Engen, Blanc, Varnay *Solti, Vienna Philharmonic, Domingo, Norman, Sotin, Nimsgern, Randova *Kubelik, Bavarian Radio Symphony, King, Janowitz, Ridderbusch, Stewart, Jones *von Matacic, Bayreuth, 1959, Konya, Grummer, Crass, Blanc, Gorr **Leinsdorf, Boston Symphony, Konya, Amara, Hines, Dooley, Gorr **Barenboim, Berlin State Opera, Seiffert, Magee, Pape, Struckmann, Polaski
**Both these recordings, while severely flawed, must be considered, as they are the only two that contain the complete "Grail Narrative"...removing the second stanza was an unfortunate "cut" sanctioned by Wagner. It truly deserves to be re-instated into the work."
Ho-hum, despite its reputation - but a must for Steber fans
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 12/22/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I am very conscious, as a veteran Amazon reviewer, that any review which does not laud a famous recording to the skies will attract unfavourable ratings from other fans, but I shall risk simply telling it as it is for me: I think this recording is over-rated. I admire many of the singers here in other performances and I have no criticism at all of Steber's lovely Elsa, which is a thing of beauty: full, subtly inflected, wholly in character and always steady and beautiful of tone. But there are too many drawbacks compared with, say, the classic Kempe studio recording. Of course, this is a live recording and really not bad as such - although there's a lot of hiss, some coughing, and a rather distant acoustic. I don't much mind that; the ear soon adjusts - but I miss the still, rapt, mystical quality Kempe brings to this score. Keilberth - so effective in his comparable "Fliegende Hollaender" of two years later - is here, by comparison with Kempe, merely efficient. In addition, I think that the lower voices often sound gritty, unsteady and lacking in resonance (listen to Greindl strain in Band 5 of Disc 1) - though they are better than Otto Wiener's nasal Herald in the Kempe - and Uhde is much steadier in the later Dutchman than we find him here, where he pushes and strains too often. Windgassen is good but does not outshine Jess Thomas in the Kempe; Thomas has that extra heroic edge and finds more poignancy in his utterance than does Windgassen. Varnay is terrific and terrifying (if a tad squally - always the problem with this role) as Ortrud, but again, no better than Ludwig in the Kempe and although I am not generally a Fischer-Dieskau fan, he does a fine job as the neurotic Telramund alongside Ludwig's convincing incarnation of pure evil. In short, I do not see how this set, for all its virtues, outshines the Kempe and shall remain loyal to that when I want to hear this wonderful opera, especially as Grummer's performance is as heartfelt as Steber's. Or, of course, there is also the excellent Kubelik studio recording with Janowitz and Stewart (see my review)."
Queen Margo | Arlington | 05/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I love this Lohengrin because it is different. No one sounds quite like Eleanor Steber. There is a certain unmatched poignancy in her interpretation. She is well matched with Windgassen and others. Kempe's studio recording remains benchmark, but this one is worth having for a different experience. And if you are a Steber fan, it is a must."