GHCD 2215/16/17 – DIE WALKÜRE – Wagner – Metropolitan Opera – 1940

Vocal Ensemble and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, Erich Leinsdorf, LAURITZ MELCHOIR – Siegmund, LOTTE LEHMANN – Sieglinde, EMANUEL LIST – Hunding, FRIEDRICH SCHORR – Wotan, KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD – Brünnhilde, KARIN BRANZELL – Fricka, THELMA VOTIPKA – Gerlinde, MAXINE STELLMAN – Waltraute, DORIS DOE, Schwertleite, I, IRRENE JASSNER – Ortlinde, DOROTHY MANSKI – Helmwige, HELEN OLHEIM – Siegrune, LUCILLE BROWNING – Rossweise, WINIFRED HEIDT – Grimgerde

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LONDON TIMES     20 August 2003

The old masters need not worry. Their recordings are still out there, packaged and repackaged over the years with varying degrees of polish or cheek. This year’s prize for ingenuity goes to the Guild Music label and Richard Caniell, who have issued a Die Walküre spliced together from two 1940 Metropolitan Opera radio relays. (Guild 2215/7) In one performance Kirsten Flagstad was magisterial as Brünnhilde; unfortunately the Wotan was less than superb. In the other, the legendary Friedrich Schorr sung Wotan; this time the Brünnhilde was weak. Since Brünnhilde and Wotan never overlap or sing a duet, it was possible if not ethical to fetch the scissors and bring Schorr and Flagstad often together on stage — finally together on disc.

The trick works better than you might think. OK, sometimes listening to Sachs’ strained top notes you do wonder if it was worth the trouble. But then the nobility of his Wotan hits you, plus Flagstad’s fire and the young Erich Leinsdorf’s urgent conducting. The sound recording of this Walküre has its restrictions; the drama, believe me, knows no limits at all.
Geoff Brown

Musicweb August 02

In my review of Wagner’s Siegfried on this site, I set out the background and philosophy of the Immortal Performances Series launched in January 2002.

Here we have a further instalment of what Richard Caniell (correct spelling of his name this time!) has subtitled “The Dream Ring Cycle”. Indeed his essays on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, and other performances, of the work presented are in themselves nearly worth the price of the discs. Methinks though he justifies too much the origin of the ‘dream’ cast on this recording which derives from the fusing of two distinct broadcasts with slightly different casts, albeit that the artists featured here did appear at the Met together in the opera but no such performance was ever broadcast. Given modern recording practices, with artists dubbing on their ‘bit’ some months after everybody else, patching in bars after live performances, etc. I suggest that only absolute purists will quibble if, as here, the ends justify the means. We all can share Caniell’s frustration that we miss out on Thorburg as Fricka, but then if every dream became reality, life would be boring!

As Caniell points out, Walküre is the turning point in The Ring cycle, when Wotan’s machinations and devious, not to say deviant, behaviour comes home to roost. Indeed his Act 2 clash with his wife, followed by his long narrative (CD2 tr24) when he confronts his failings, is the cycle’s psychological centre. Wotan’s interpreter has to berate Hunding after the death of Siegmund, vent his fury at Brünnhilde for her disobedience, and say farewell to her as he summons Loge to surround her with fire. Of the famous Solti recording, critics were split as to Hotter’s performance; the great Wotan of the 1940s and 50s caught too late said some. Here, we have the great Wotan of the 1920s and 30s, Friedrich Schorr. Born 1888 he had first sung the part in 1912 and arrived at the Met in 1924 dominating his fach until his departure in 1943. We can hear on this recording just why he was considered the outstanding exponent of the part in his generation. Schorr’s nobility of tone, smooth legato, ability to convey the character’s many moods are to be heard to good effect.

The other members of this ‘dream cast’ play their part in making this recording memorable. Flagstad’s gleaming, but full, tone and ability to rise up the stave are a delight to listen to. Melchior too plays his part with equally gleaming tone allied to forthright delivery. Like Björling in the Italian repertoire, he could exhibit faults with intonation and timing. His musicality is called into question by some; if we had their like today the life of opera house intendants would be a lot easier!

As well as featuring Schorr and Flagstad together, another reason for fusing the broadcasts to is to have Lotte Lehmann’ Sieglinde. Like Schorr, she was born in 1888, (Caniell gives 1885) and made her Met debut in the part in 1934 opposite Melchior; she appeared on the roster until 1945. The outstanding Marschallin of her day she had a voice of great beauty allied to innate musicality. Although getting a little past her very best of the late 1920s and early 1930s, her portrayal shows only briefly the fragility that was later to overtake her instrument. None the less, in variety of colour and characterisation particularly in tenderness with and passion for Siegmund, hers is a formidable portrayal.

List is reliable, no better, as Hunding, whilst Branzell’s Fricka is a formidable woman. Leinsdorf, underrated by many Wagnerians, keeps the drama moving. The balance between orchestra and singers is better I feel than on the earlier Siegfried where I found the former too far forward.

Wagnerians, and others, used to listening to live performances from this period will find much to enjoy. Oh, that in this super technological age we could record a dream cast of this stellar quality.
Robert J Farr