Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Music & Arts
WORKS: Der Ring des Nibelungen
PERFORMER: Kirsten Flagstad, Ferdinand Frantz, Max Lorenz, Set Svanholm, Günther Treptow, Hilde Konetzni, Alois Pernerstorfer, Ludwig Weber; Chorus & Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Wilhelm Furtwängler
CATALOGUE NO: CD-914 AAD mono (Reissue)
The legendary status of this Ring creates expectations that in many respects it does not fulfil. Apart from its two main attractions (Furtwängler and Flagstad), the only superlative moments come from Ludwig Weber as Fasolt and Hagen; otherwise, much of the cast achieves rather disappointing results, the tone of the Scala orchestra is brighter and lighter than one might hope, and ensemble and execution are often conspicuously untidy. Yet the insights this performance offers into the musico-dramatic possibilities of The Ring remain unique on record. Dating from 1950, this is the only complete recording of Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting a staged performance of the work to have been made available so far; in this context he achieves greater urgency and impulsiveness than in the weightier, more symphonic 1953 Rome concert performance on EMI. At La Scala there is flexibility, spontaneity, and expressive specificity in the shaping of phrases, and the whole flows, surges, and billows with unforced lyricism. Kirsten Flagstad, while easily surmounting most of Wagner’s vocal challenges, utters Brünnhilde’s lines with an animation absent from her marmoreal studio recordings. Guided by Furtwängler’s pacing and phrasing, her ‘Heil dir, Sonne!’ for once sounds natural as well as grand, and her repentant lilt at ‘War es so schmählich’ is the kind of revelation that prompts forgiveness of her failure to attempt high Cs elsewhere.

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At its best, this transfer provides clarity and perspective missing from previous editions, but that very explicitness reveals considerable variability in the reception of the original broadcast. Fitting this performance (which cuts one chunk each from Walküre Act II and Siegfried Act III) onto 12 CDs results in a few oddities of layout: most notably, Götterdämmerung begins a mere four seconds after the applause for Siegfried has died away! David Breckbill