Preiser 90699 mono, 76:00 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
The 1950 and 1953 Decca recordings of Wagner from conductor Hans Knappertsbusch (1885-1965) grace this generous disc, especially given the conductor’s broad, expansive tempos. Siegfried’s paean to his mother-bred humanity is rather exquisitely presented in the 1950 Forest Murmurs sequence, Lechleitner’s tenor having a warm, resilient tone. The Vienna Philharmonic basks in this music, with extremely warm strings and horns. Even the opening D Minor Flying Dutchman Overture possesses a ruddy gloss, a molten flavor.
Knappertsbusch takes every repeat for the 1953 Ride of the Valkyries, stretching the piece to embrace a whole battlefield of fallen heroes. Wagner’s Parsifal was a Knappertsbusch specialty, and the Prelude and two incidental scenes testify to a reverential, intimate panorama the conductor could elicit from a responsive ensemble. Sensuous, vibrant with strings, horns, and harp, the 1950 Prelude resonates in its own mystical ether. The VPO woodwinds rule in the Transformation Scene, whose bass-laden textures point right to Bruckner. Treptow’s baritone is light for the role in the Flower Maiden scene, but the miking compensates for some thin resonance in his mid-range.
Tannhauser provides the most extended music, what Bernard Shaw called the “bloody butcher’s meat” from operas converted for concert presentation. The urging of the Pilgrim’s Chorus is methodically slow, building to an inexorable peroration on Dir toene Lob, and then tumbling into the four-square rhythm of the Venusberg Music. Knappertsbusch evoked as much damning as praise for his Wagner performances, which could run the gamut from the sublime to the tasteless; but he commands lithe energy, a light hand and deft sense of color, in these tripping excerpts. He could make Wagner’s writing charming in its transparency, approaching in the late operas the same orchestral balance he had achieved in Die Meistersinger. Sehr gut!