Wagner: Die Walküre

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Testament
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
WORKS: Die Walküre
PERFORMER: Astrid Varnay, Hans Hotter, Gré Brouwenstijn, Ramón Vinay, Josef Greindl, Georgine von Milinkovic; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra/Joseph Keilberth
CATALOGUE NO: SBT 4 1391
Here’s the second instalment in this legendary Ring, recorded by Decca in 1955 but unreleased because of crippling contract difficulties – not, despite what’s been suggested, due to anyone’s aversion to live recordings. Now, though, we can enjoy a quite remarkable performance from New Bayreuth’s golden era, with an underrated conductor and truly classic cast.

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Keilberth, assailed at the time for being fast and light, is in fact fairly expansive, inclined to languish in Act I’s love music but building up the surge and flow of excitement splendidly across the evening, to a magisterial Magic Fire. Matching this is Hotter’s magnificent Wotan, caught a decade before Solti’s version and in much stronger, steadier voice; occasionally he chops up lines inelegantly, including his last ‘Wer meines Speeres Spitze…’, but his verbal sensitivity and expressive range make this tragically sympathetic characterisation unequalled on disc. Not least is his rapport with Varnay. If her copperhued voice sounds less immediately youthful than her contemporary Nilsson’s, her characterisation of Brunnhilde is more so, feminine, fiery but vulnerable. In the Todesverkundigung scene with Vinay’s virile if slightly rough-toned Siegmund these two dark voices produce a wonderfully elegiac effect. His strikingly doomladen, rebellious character is offset by Brouwenstijn’s ardent if rather vibrato-heavy Sieglinde and Greindl’s grim Hunding. Milinkovic is a suitably imperious Fricka, and the Valkyries are a stalwart band. Despite odd moments of duff playing, the performance as a whole sounds splendid, carrying one along with immense dramatic sweep.

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This is undoubtedly the best of the Bayreuth Walküres available, far better conducted than the overrated Böhm and Boulez and better cast than Barenboim’s. It’s recommendable among the finest versions on disc. Michael Scott Rohan