RICHARD WAGNER: Siegfried – Wolfgang Windgasssen, Astrid Varnay, Hans Hotter, Gustav Neidlinger, Paul Kuen, Maria von Ilosvay, Joseph Greindl, Ilse Hollweg; Bayreuth 1955 /Joseph Keilberth – Testament

by | Apr 9, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

RICHARD WAGNER: Siegfried – Wolfgang Windgasssen, Astrid Varnay, Hans Hotter, Gustav Neidlinger, Paul Kuen, Maria von Ilosvay, Joseph Greindl, Ilse Hollweg;  Bayreuth 1955 /Joseph Keilberth – Testament SBT4 1392 (4 CDs) – CD1: 51.24; CD2: 57.03; CD3: 57.11; CD4: 63.51; stereo; ****:

The first installment of a new release of the entire Ring Cycle, this version of Siegfried, recorded live at Bayreuth in 1955, is so immediate that we can almost reach out and touch the singers. Touted as the first stereo recording (preceding by four years the famed studio recording conducted by Solti) of Wagner’s monumental work, the four-CD set is in fantastic sound. The singers’ every breath and sibilant is clearly audible as though they are standing three feet away. The Decca team that achieved this miracle 50 years ago placed three microphones in the pit and hung another three from a lighting bridge above the stage. Although Decca was fully prepared to release this recording, the project was vetoed by John Culshaw, who planned to record the Solti version instead. The three other operas in this (so far) exciting Ring Cycle will be released later in the year.

In addition to the superb sound, this set offers many musical delights. Keilberth conducts at a terrifically exciting pace and with an impeccable sense of drama. Further, he is wonderfully supportive of the singers. This is inspired conducting at its best. During the overture, the brass sounds emanating from the orchestra pit (the dragon music) are particularly impressive. And in Act 3 when Siegfried wakes the slumbering Brünnhilde, the strings section swoops and swirls in great arcs of extensive phrases. Windgassen’s Siegfried is somewhat of a drawback. He sounds weak-willed, with a thin voice. Kuen as Mime often sounds more heroic than Windgassen, but the Forging Song is quite adequate. Compare Windgassen with Bernd Aldenhoff, the heldentenor on Keilberth’s 1952 Bayreuth recording (in mono). Although Aldenhoff’s intonation is none too precise, he is quite the hero in that earlier recording.

Hotter as the Wanderer is in great voice. The wobble that plagued him in his later years is nowhere in evidence; all we hear is a clear, noble, and irresistible sound with wonderfully sonorous overtones—a dream come true. Neidlinger is a powerful and angry Alberich. The contrast between his raw ambition and the Wanderer’s nobility and restraint is a marvel. Varnay’s intonation is a bit dicey in the beginning of “Heil dir, Sonne” (Hail, you sunshine), but it soon rights itself. After a few bars, her tones sound gilded and luminous. Although Varnay’s voice is much bigger than Windgassen’s, she never overpowers him, and the final duet is both inspired and ardent. Wagnerians will delight in this recording, and those who are new to this music will find much to enjoy.

-Dalia Geffen


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