Wagner: Die Walküre

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Testament
WORKS: Die Walküre
PERFORMER: Martha Mödl, Astrid Varnay, Hans Hotter, Ramón Vinay, Josef Greindl, Georgine von Milinkovic; Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra/Joseph Keilberth
CATALOGUE NO: SBT 4 1432

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This Walküre completes Testament’s release of the Bayreuth 1955 Ring. Hailing from the second of two Decca cycles (the first released by Testament in 2006-7), it features Astrid Varnay singing Sieglinde instead of Brünnhilde, the latter role being taken by Martha Mödl, a cult figure among Wagnerians, and rightly so.

The rest of the cast remains as in the first cycle, but one of the things that makes this new release so interesting is the way in which Hans Hotter – the greatest of all Wotans, here in stupendous voice – and Ramon Vinay – the baritonal, deeply affecting Siegmund – react to the personalities of their Brünnhilde and Sieglinde respectively.  

Varnay was one of the great heroic sopranos, however Sieglinde is not an heroic part, and she scales her huge voice down. But her way of inflecting the line to gain maximum charge for Sieglinde’s lyrical, then passionate, later hysterical music is extraordinary.

And Mödl, though she finds the higher reaches of Brünnhilde’s role a strain, is so deeply expressive and able to bring out every facet of the goddess’s relationship to her father, that her scenes with Wotan in Acts II and III are more searching than in almost any performance I have heard.

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Almost no Walküre, apart from the first set that Decca recorded a fortnight before, is so well cast and conducted. And the early recording conveys the atmosphere of the Festspielhaus with an honesty and power that are overwhelming. Michael Tanner