Wagner The Valkyrie

Author: 
Alan Blyth

Wagner The Valkyrie

  • (Der) Ring des Nibelungen: Part 2, '(Die) Walküre'
  • (Der) Ring des Nibelungen: Part 2, '(Die) Walküre', Act 1

''I don't think The Valkyrie can be a perfect performance, although I have never been so happy as when I was with Curphey and Remedios in that first act. I do prefer live recording because I feel that an audience contributes to the performance...'' So wrote the late Sir Reginald Goodall in the booklet accompanying the ENO set, later adding—as he typically backed away from the limelight—that this wasn't ''The Goodall Ring but Everybody's Ring''. Well, ''that first act'' may at times sound too deliberate, wanting in the right fervour, but Goodall and his chosen singers perform it with such love, such sensibility, such attention to detail, and do so before an obviously rapt audience, that it scores in every way over the chilly, somewhat nervous account on Telarc. Maazel, who once conducted the whole cycle at Bayreuth, certainly supplies the energy and firm ensemble sometimes missing in Goodall's account, but in every other respect the Wagnerian melos is to be found in the EMI performance. Maazel conducts the act 20 minutes faster than Goodall (in almost exactly the same time as he took at Bayreuth). The added breadth of the Goodall reading and his refusal to deviate from a given tempo as compared with Maazel are telling, even if one wishes that the given speed for Siegmund's Spring song were just that much faster.
Except in one respect the singing at the ENO is superior to that in Pittsburgh. Klaus Konig's uneven, inexpressive Siegmund is no match for the lyrical poetry of Remedios's rewarding interpretation. Though the German may have the conventional weight for the role as compared with Remedios's lighter tone, at this stage in his career Konig finds it hard to sustain even phrasing. Peter Meven (once a fine Gurnemanz at Covent Garden—under Goodall, I fancy), is now in his sixties, and too unsteady in voice for Hagen, whereas Clifford Grant is suitably firm and implacable. My exception is Susan Dunn's Sieglinde: here is the shining, fresh tone and eager manner, allied to clear diction, found in some of the best Sieglindes of the past—Maria Muller, Maria Reining and Claire Watson among them. In other circumstances I can imagine the reading being even more ardent. Margaret Curphey can't match that particular quality of tone but her Sieglinde is none the less an affecting, thoughtfully prepared and long-breathed performance, potently responsive to Andrew Porter's acute translation.
In the 1970s, unlike the 1990s, a British company could assemble a cast suited to their parts, or maybe the hour brought forth the singers. Once into Act 2, we encounter the wonderful partnership of Rita Hunter and Norman Bailey, the one gleaming in tone (recalling Nilsson), impulsive of manner, the other vocally authoritative, and able to convey all Wotan's torments. They are launched on their way by Goodall's weighty introduction. Indeed, though the last two acts are again noticeably slower than most other readings, they are able to accomodate the more measured pace, allowing for an added intensity and greater attention to detail (as JBS pointed out in his first review).
As in Siegfried (reviewed 3/91), one is more than thankful for Bailey's magnificent treatment of the text, emphasizing his expression of Wotan's agony of the soul, even if the warmth for the great Farewell is not quite achieved. He is at his very best in the long Act 2 narrative, where his variety of tone and meaningful diction are exemplary. Hunter is an affecting, thoughtful Brunnhilde. The thrust of her vibrant lustrous singing is often enhanced by eloquent insights—both in her death announcements to Siegmund in Act 2 and in her verbal argument with her father in Act 3.
Ann Howard is a properly dominating Fricka and the team of Valkyries contains at least three singers who went on to greater things. They mostly avoid the customary shrieks of the brood. JBS found the whole performance less immediate than several studio recordings. There, as heard in its new digital transfers, I cannot agree with him. The recording reminds me gratefully of many satisfying nights in a stalls seat at the Coliseum engrossed in such a performance with excellent balance between stage and pit (where the orchestra plays with total dedication for its old chief, even if there are moments of untidy ensemble). I doubt if anyone would have produced such intensity in the studio. Like the live recordings under Furtwangler, Krauss and Bohm this one re-creates the true frisson of being present at a memorable performance—and this one has the advantage, for many listeners, that it's in the vernacular as Wagner would have wished. I often meet young and not-so-young people wanting the courage to take the Wagnerian plunge. They can do no better than collect these invaluable recordings of the Goodall Ring (as I shall continue to call it) as they reappear.'

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