Wagner: Lohengrin

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Teldec Historic
WORKS: Lohengrin
PERFORMER: Wolfgang Windgassen, Josef Greindl, Eleanor Steber, Hermann Uhde, Astrid Varnay, Hans BraunBayreuth Festival Chorus &Orchestra/Joseph Keilberth
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-93674-2 ADD mono Reissue
No entirely satisfactory recording of Lohengrin exists, alas, despite the appearance over the years of at least 19 different versions. But this live Bayreuth account from 1953 does boast the best ever Ortrud (jointly with Margarete Klose, whose assumption is preserved on Heger’s 1942 set – Preiser 90043) in Bayreuth’s reigning Brünnhilde, Astrid Varnay, and Telramund in the brooding, tragic assumption of Hermann Uhde. It also benefits from Keilberth’s immaculately paced and dramatically visceral account of the score, which lacks only the ecstatic quality found in Rudolf Kempe’s (also less than ideal) classic EMI recording (CDS 7 49017 8) to lift it onto the plane of greatness. The Lohengrin and Elsa, though, are just not inspiring enough. Wolfgang Windgassen predictably turns in a thoroughly professional performance, but the basic dryness of his vocal timbre prevents him from essaying the genuinely heroic or the plangently tender qualities conveyed by, for instance, Jess Thomas (for Kempe) or Sandor Konya (best heard live at Bayreuth in 1958 on Myoto 890.02, also with Varnay, under André Cluytens). Eleanor Steber in a rare excursion into Wagner sings prettily as Elsa but fails to convey the visionary inwardness or vulnerability found by such noted interpreters as Elisabeth Grümmer (again for Kempe) or Gundula Janowitz (for Kubelík on DG; not yet on CD). The ubiquitous Josef Greindl is a solid, nasal King Henry. The Bayreuth chorus and orchestra, as ever, sing and play magnificently. Committed Wagnerians will want it anyway; others should sample first. Antony Bye