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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried (1876) [3:25:51]
Siegfried; Lauritz Melchior (tenor)
Mime: Karl Laufkötter (tenor)
Wanderer: Friedrich Schorr (bass-baritone)
Brünnhilde: Kirsten Flagstad (soprano)
Alberich: Eduard Habich (baritone)
Erda: Kerstin Thorborg (contralto)
Fafner: Emanuel List (bass)
Waldvogel: Stella Andreva (soprano)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Arthur Bodansky
rec. live 30 January 1937, Metropolitan Opera, New York.
XR remastering
PRISTINE CLASSICAL PACO139 [3 CDs: 205:42]

In his Producer’s Note to this issue, Pristine’s audio engineer Andrew Rose declares that “[t]he restoration work for this recording has constituted one of the difficult and lengthy of my career, with wild variation in quality in the original source recordings… and severe damage in places”. I made immediate comparison with the Naxos re-mastering of the same recording and can confidently endorse his hope that he has succeeded in making this magnificent performance as enjoyable a listening experience as possible; this is the version I will henceforth turn to whenever I want to hear the work performed surely as Wagner intended. From the technical angle, there is far less hiss and crackle, a fuller bass, greater richness, less harshness and real air around the voices without any diminution in frequencies; nor is the orchestra too recessed. Of course, there is still some intermittent swish and flutter, and the surface damage to the original discs sometimes inescapably remains very much in evidence, particularly at the Wanderer’s first entry and when Siegfried encounters the fiery rock, but the end-product is so superior to previous incarnations that Andrew Rose must be congratulated on achieving a labour of love for which all echt Wagnerites will be grateful.

The question of cuts in this mammoth work is always a vexed one. The speed of Bodansky’s direction would suggest that cuts have been made throughout, especially in comparison with such as Karajan, let alone Goodall, but there are in fact only two, in the conversations between Siegfried and the Wanderer in Act 3, Scene 2, and between Siegfried and Brünnhilde in Scene 3. I find Bodansky’s propulsion apt and refreshing, lending impetus and excitement to the orchestral accompaniment in what is already a thrillingly sung performance. The Prelude to Act 3, for example, is perfectly executed, with real dash and weight. Besides, Melchior not only easily copes with those speeds, he seems to thrive on them.

Given the sheer length of the role, his is the central performance here. He is appealingly boyish and boisterous, tenderly lyrical and sensitive and magnificently heroic by turns and his “Nothung” is stunning. Surely no Siegfried ever has been, or ever will be, able to encompass the demands of the role so completely and still have the stamina to match the greatest Wagnerian dramatic soprano ever in Act 3. Flagstad is radiant as Brünnhilde, even if I am disappointed that she ducks the final top C traditionally inserted by such as Nilsson, which can put the cap on that extraordinary duet. Similarly, Schorr evinces just a little weakness in snatching at some of his top notes but is otherwise massively authoritative and deeply moving as the Wanderer. Emanuel List is equally impressive as a sinister, black-voiced Fafner and Kerstin Thorborg is predictably steady, stately and majestic as Erda. The Mime is truly sung rather than whined and even the Woodbird, a role too often under-cast, is ideally trilled. I am less content with Habich’s Alberich, as he tends to bark and shout, yelling and even faking top notes compared with such as Neidlinger for Solti, the supreme exponent of that role, but that is a minor gripe; he is very characterful and intense.

If you wish to hear this paradigm of a performance in optimal sound, there is no question that this Pristine release is the one to have.

Ralph Moore

 




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