GHCD 2224/25/26/27 – GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG – Wagner – Metropolitan Opera – 1929

Orchestras of the Metropolitan Opera & Covent Garden, Various Conductors, Lauritz Melchior, Kirsten Flagstad, Herbert Janssen, Kerstin Thorborg, Eduard Habich, Dezso Ernster, Hilde Konetzni

To the CD in our Shop

Gramophone April 2003

…… And while we’re on the joint issues of transfer quality and Wagner, Guild has released the final instalment of its ‘Dream ‘ Ring with what initially looks like an unlikely cast of Melchior, Flagstad, Janssen, Thorborg, Habich, Denster and Hilde Konetzini. By which I mean a rather broad stretch across the generations. All is explained by re-creation/restoration producer Richard Caniell who has drawn his material from performances at The Met in 1936 and 1939 (both Bodanzky), then in 1951 (Stiedry), from Covent Garden in 1937 and La Scala in 1950 (both under Furtwängler), with a couple of commercial 78s added. Only someone with the most intimate knowledge of these recordings could have effected such seamless aural transitions. As it happens the later tapes were always rather thin-sounding, even in the best transfers, and although the various conducting styles are fundamentally unalike the somehow seem to meld in the heat of the ‘live’ moment. It’s and extraordinarily brave and surprisingly successful venture and the transfers of the older material are extremely good. All in all, an inspired climax to Richard Canaille’s ‘Dream’
Robert Cowan

MusicWeb Monday March 24 03

Really serious collectors who are willing to buy many reissue copies of different historical performances of a work will endlessly debate which particular performance has the best moment of each particular artist’s performance in each of the classic roles. But collectors like me who have not the time, energy nor financial resources to explore to this degree will be grateful to Richard Caniell and Guild for having spliced together a “dream performance” from many sources. Not only that but they have applied reasonable digital restoration which removes most of the distracting noise but does not filter out any of the musical sound in the vocal range. It is presented as part of the ‘The Dream Ring Cycle’.

The sources of these recordings are not the original acetates but tape copies from the very late 1940s. The voices are clear and the instruments well differentiated. The customary artefacts of digital filtering are amazingly inaudible. We are told there are 512 splices in this recording made from many different sources, (in one case 16 minutes of music took 43 hours of work to reconstruct) but I never found any of them objectionable although on occasion I would be aware of one here and there. Occasionally one wishes it were possible to keep a little more of the orchestral bass than they have here. They of course had to join sources of varying audio quality as seamlessly as possible. This meant that, regrettably, the lowest quality source would occasionally have to set the standard.

These disks are enjoyable and the spirit of the music is genuinely evident. Listening for long periods of time to restricted recordings generally makes me feel headachy and short of breath. For this reason I generally have to break up my listening into half hour sessions, but this recording grabbed me at once and I heard it straight through. Flagstad sounds amazingly young throughout. Melchior in the sunrise scene sounds nasal and wobbly. Gunther huffs and puffs and may have been a fine stage actor, but what survives here is not distinguished. Gutrune scoops into her notes, but Siegfried’s sight of “the first woman he has ever seen (onstage, at least) who wasn’t his aunt” must have been good for him, because Melchior abruptly sounds ten years younger.

Hagen’s speech is appropriately menacing and must have frightened the orchestra players as they struggle for a while. The audience also comes down with a serious attack of morning bronchitis at sunrise. In Scene 3 Flagstad is fabulous; the orchestra is inspired by her. Even Gunther and Siegfried are feeling much better. In Act II Alberich is terrific. Hagen and his henchmen are so convincing you want to jump up and yell “rittorna vincitor!” The Act II finale is just overwhelming, better than I’ve ever heard it (here Hagen is sung briefly Ludwig Weber), and the audience applause shows they fully appreciated what was before them.

In Act III Scene II the surface crackle on the source materials is at times awful, and the worst splice in the whole recording occurs. But Melchior seems to be yet another ten years younger and does such a terrific job with his big scene you’re really sorry to see him killed. I wished I were on stage so I could grab some spears and throw one into the audience at the cougher in row C, and then one at the squirmy occupant of that squeaky folding chair in the orchestra. In Flagstad’s big finale scene the sound is at first disappointingly thinner than previously. However it gets much better and she’s there and she does it and it’s great.

This recording left me with a wonderful feeling: the art of Flagstad is not gone from us. Here before us is her Götterdämmerung in a form every opera lover can enjoy as well as appreciate and it will now last forever. Melchior (after scene 1), Thorborg, Eduard Habich as Alberich, and Dezso Ernster and Ludwig Weber as Hagen are also memorable.

With all the digital wonders available to restore historic performances, the Nobel Prize remains to be won by the inventor of a digital cough filter. Some bright child now among us will soar to riches and glory with this accomplishment.
Paul Shoemaker

Classics Today Monday February 17 03

his “complete” Götterdämmerung almost makes you appreciate technology, or at least what technology can do. It is a compilation of bits of other Götterdämmerungs, artfully joined together (only the most sophisticated among us would notice the “joins”). We get parts of performances from the Met led by Artur Bodanzky (1936, 1939) and Fritz Stiedry (1951); Covent Garden led by Wilhelm Furtwängler (1937); La Scala led by Furtwängler (1950); and some other recordings of excerpts. In all, there are eight sources and 177 joins. The sound quality varies from really okay to scratchy and difficult; but that’s hardly the point. Neither, apparently, is an overall view of the opera: it’s not easy to discuss a dramatic arc or interpretation when Bodanzky has Siegfried and Brünnhilde comfy and quick and then Siegfried speedboating down the Rhine in the prelude; or when Furtwängler’s gravity shows up in the hero’s Funeral Music and the Immolation Scene while Stiedry tends to be formal and to-the-point elsewhere. But who cares? The singing is staggering; those who claim that the golden age of Wagner singing is long gone are absolutely right.

Kirsten Flagstad is uniformly great, over a period of 15 years. Her delivery is as smooth and noble early as late, and all notes are perfectly in place. Oddly, she ducks the high-C that ends the Prologue in 1939! She also is not quite maniacal enough in Act 2–other sopranos have expressed rage-at-betrayal better–but still, the voice is reassuring in a way that no other’s was in the 20th century. The Immolation Scene, from ’37 with Furtwängler, is just about perfect. And Lauritz Melchior is absolutely unique; the combination of power, legato, tonal beauty, and–despite some critics’ complaints to the contrary–involvement have not been matched within memory. His death scene is incredibly touching.

Kerstin Thorborg gives Waltraute’s narrative an urgency that makes it riveting where many singers simply make it seem long, and her tone is a combination of creamy and urgent. Herbert Janssen’s Gunther is ideal–a semi-dolt to whom things happen–and he sings beautifully. Dezso Ernster’s Hagen is colorful and pointedly delivered, but a darker, meaner sound (Frick, Weber) is preferable in the role. Eduard Habich’s Alberich is almost completely unhinged; he could scare the horses.

Hilde Konetzni is a truly pristine, unsuspecting Gutrune (Maria Nezadal sings some of Gutrune’s music and Regina Resnik sings 19 words that neither of the other two sing). The Norns and Rhinemaidens are top-notch (Lucielle Browning, Doris Doe; Erna Berger, Lucina Amara), and it’s a particular modern miracle that the latter are taken from 1951 while Siegfried’s interactions with them are taken from 1936! I can’t say that this feels like a whole performance of this opera, but neither can I say it does not. Is it the “dream” performance? I don’t know, but it’s a set that Wagnerites will need.
Robert Levine