It’s no accident that 1960s Vienna State Opera casts resemble those of the era’s great Wagner recordings. They attracted the finest there was, and this one, with no weak links, could have served Solti, Karajan or any of the greats. Claire Watson excels her studio performances, singing Elsa with floods of pure tone that rarely falters. Jess Thomas seems much livelier than for Rudolf Kempe, although he remains a pretty earthbound hero. Bass Marti Talvela is as warm a King Henry as he is commanding, but he’s occasionally stretched by the top notes. Christa Ludwig and her then husband Walter Berry are villains almost as memorable as she and Fischer-Dieskau were for Kempe, although Berry is less complex. Her ‘Entweihte Götter!’ literally stops the show thanks to the applause. Eberhard Waechter makes a keen Herald, and the chorus is on good form.
Lohengrin was among the operas Böhm didn’t record commercially, so this fills an important gap; but the performance isn’t that exceptional. His Prelude makes a fine noise, but never achieves that vital sense of the transcendental, and though he propels the drama excitingly enough, its mystery is underplayed. He isn’t helped by a recording that is sometimes shrill and strangely balanced, occasionally shunting the chorus into the middle distance. So, while this is manna for Böhm admirers, it doesn’t overtake recordings by Kempe and Rafael Kubelík.
Michael Scott Rohan