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an inspirational performance


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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried (1876) [3:49:17]
Siegfried; Hans Hopf (tenor)
Brünnhilde: Birgit Nilsson (soprano)
Wanderer: George London (bass-baritone)
Erda: Jean Madeira (contralto)
Mime: Paul Kuën (tenor)
Alberich: Ralph Herbert (baritone)
Fafner: Gottlob Frick (bass)
Waldvogel: Martina Arroyo (soprano)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf
rec. live radio broadcast, 13 January 1962, Metropolitan Opera, New York
Free MP3 download with full score, vocal score and libretto as PDF
XR remastering; Ambient Stereo
PRISTINE CLASSICAL PACO155 [3 CDs: 226:19]

I previously reviewed the issue on the Walhall label of the radio broadcast, with Milton Cross’ commentary, of the live, uncut performance and was less than impressed, finding it to be hampered by several things: first and primarily poor sound. However, my impressions were clearly negatively skewed by the sonics and as this new issue from Pristine is very much better from that point of view, I think much better of it; Andrew Rose has performed his usual sterling remastering into Ambient Stereo which marks a huge improvement. The second problem was the persistent coughing, often throughout the quietest passages, such as the entire four and a half minutes of the atmospheric orchestral Prologue to Act II; that persists but Pristine’s enhanced sound, instead of making that irritation all the more apparent, has managed to bring forward the voices and, to a lesser extent, the orchestra, while recessing and greatly diminishing the audibility of the hackers, who never let up for a moment. That improvement in the sound also has the effect of emphasising the third caveat: the sometimes wobbly and rather wooden singing of the lead tenor Hans Hopf. His very baritonal tenor has here begun to deteriorate somewhat since his heyday in the fifties and he sometimes has to heave his voice up for the high notes. However, he improves noticeably as the performance progresses and has the heft, stamina, virile tone and the ringing top notes for passages such as the Forging Scene, the conclusion of the scene when Siegfried smashes Wotan’s staff and the passage just prior to Brünnhilde’s awakening. We would be grateful for such a tenor today for all his vocal and interpretative shortcomings.

The other singers are mostly very fine: Paul Kuën owned the role of Mime throughout the 50’s and early 60’s but had only just made his Met debut in Das Rheingold. He gives us a proper singing Mime, despite the occasional yelp. Even better, are Birgit Nilsson and George London, two of the greatest voices ever to undertake the roles of the Wanderer and Brünnhilde respectively and thanks to the rejuvenated sound, we are now more able to hear the quality of their contributions. London’s singing reminds us what was lost by his having to retire too early from singing; his is one of those powerful, metallic yet beautiful voices, like Corelli’s, that I simply drink in. Nilsson’s appearance is of course deferred until the last scene of Act 3; it’s almost like a night off for her from singing Brünnhilde in Die Walküre and Götterdämerung and the enhanced sound now reveals her to be in much better voice than I had thought when I first heard this in the previous, inferior issue.
A weakness is Ralph Herbert's Alberich, which is well characterised but dry and undistinguished of voice, and the impact of Gottlob Frick's imposing Fafner is somewhat reduced by his being placed so far back in the aural picture. Martina Arroyo's pure and powerful Woodbird is a delight; the role is too often undercast. I warm more to Jean Madeira’s Erda this time around; she is stentorian and authoritative.
Leinsdorf conducts with verve and passion and sustains tension in an opera famously rather devoid of much incident for long spells; only the last scene fails to generate enough excitement, sounding rather deliberate – which is a pity, as it must obviously be climactic.

This new issue from Pristine makes all previous incarnations redundant, it is so superior in sound quality.

Ralph Moore

 

 




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