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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Walküre (1850)
Acts I and II
Sieglinde – Lotte Lehmann (soprano)
Brünnhilde – Marta Fuchs (soprano)
Brünnhilde – Ella Flesch (soprano) Act II Scene 5 only
Fricka – Margarete Klose (mezzo soprano)
Siegmund – Lauritz Melchior (tenor)
Wotan – Hans Hotter (baritone)
Wotan – Alfred Jerger Act II Scene 5 only
Hunding – Emanuel List
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter, recorded Vienna 1935 – the whole of Act I and parts of Act II
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Bruno Seidler-Winkler, recorded September 1938 – parts of Act II
NAXOS 8.110250/51 [2CDs: 144.03]


It’s good that Naxos has got around to this classic set of the first two Acts of Die Walküre, which for all its attendant recording troubles has retained a prestigious place in the recording history of the work. It enshrines a brace of performances, by Lehmann and Melchior, the equal of any on disc and conducting by Walter of felicitous articulacy – quite light but certainly not without power when required. The complexities of the recording history are probably well enough known – in brief the intention was to record the whole work in Berlin but political circumstances meant a move to Vienna where Act I was recorded in 1935, along with parts of Act II. Financial costs stymied the project in Vienna and the remainder of the second Act was finally completed in Berlin in 1938, Bruno Seidler-Winkler standing in for the obviously absent Walter.

The first thing to note is the extraordinary splendid sound that the contemporary engineers extracted from the Musikverein in 1935. Its immediacy and forward quality are immediately apparent and there is little surface noise. The competition comes from Danacord and EMI itself, which issued its version most recently in 1992 though in a production note Mark Obert-Thorn points out that a recent EMI release cut some of the Act II music – I’m not sure if that is the reissue he has in mind.

Given the excellence of the engineering, the low level of surface noise and the fine quality of the Victor pressings one can listen with almost uninterrupted pleasure to the performance. And what a performance – from Melchior’s first weary entrance (Was Herd dies auch sei) and Lehmann’s exceptionally vivid characterisation of every part of her role in which her urgency and passion are to the fore, we can hear everything that was most admirable in these great artists’ performances. In this first scene we can also hear Walter’s complexly significant part in his revelation of orchestral detail: counter themes, expressive string and wind solos, motivic strands and so on. The first of these is the deeply expressive cello solo (Buxbaum?). You can also hear the sense of fluent continuity that Walter generates (listen to the basses, horns and clarinets in the Siegmund-Sieglinde dialogue immediately before Scene III in this respect, as well, for confirmation of his control of the colour and pacing of this movement - beginning Einen Unseiligen labtest du).

Hunding is Emanuel List, then only 47 and only two years older than Melchior, but sounding less steady in his line (held notes are a particular problem), though still profoundly characterful. In matters of subtlety he has to yield though to his younger colleague; Melchior’s vibrato usage in the Scene II passage starting with Sieglinde’s Friedmund darf ich nicht heissen is a small study in itself. Lehmann’s vitality and multi-faceted impersonation burns strongly throughout the length of the recording sessions. An exact contemporary of List her voice has retained its freshness and strength untroubled by technical frailty. Du bist der Lenz sees both Lehmann and Melchior inspiring each other to still further heights of musico-expressive understanding, her vitality spurring his increasing nobility of utterance, all the while underpinned by Walter’s forward moving conducting.

Marta Fuchs is Brünnhilde and we can hear her here in her largest commercial recording undertaking. Her entry in Act II Scene I (Nun zäune dein Ross) meeting Hans Hotter’s Wotan shows the power and perfect intonation she habitually displayed. Hotter, by some distance the youngest cast member, was then only twenty-six (the same number of years Lehmann had behind her as an opera singer!) and he is in clear and fresh voice, not really yet the mesmeric stage creature he was to become, with the voice rounded and true without the cavernous power that was to develop over the next two decades or so. The high point of his singing is the weary, hollowed-out tone he exhibits in Act II Scene II (O heilige Schmach!) followed immediately by the core hardening in his meeting with Brünnhilde. Margarete Klose, like Walter a Berliner, is a fiery but super-subtle Fricka with expressive colouration in her vocal production and a sense of almost conversational inevitability about her impersonation.

It’s noticeable that however fine the Berlin sessions are the orchestra there is not quite the receptive and colour-strewn instrument that responds so well for Walter (winds and strings especially). Seidler-Winkler was an experienced conductor and an habitué of the Berlin recording studios but was not Walter’s equal and his portion of the recording doesn’t flow quite as well as in Vienna – but it’s marginal.

Problems in the recording? There were a few cuts in the Wotan-Fricka scene in Act II and Wotan’s Narration, some poor horn tuning in Act II Scene IV (Siegmund! Sieh auf mich) and one less than imperceptible side join; also some muffled but audible crackle in one of the sides used in Act II Scene II. Otherwise all is well – with potted biographies and storyline and Tully Potter’s introduction to the recording history of the work.

Jonathan Woolf



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