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Wagner: Die Walkure
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2007
This is a splendid studio version of Die Walkure, recorded in Vienna in 1954 by one of the acknowledged masters at the end of his career. The mono sound is bright and clear. Ludwig Suthaus is a passionate and masculine hero, with warmth of tone and great humanity, and is well matched to Rysanek's sweet and feminine Sieglinde. Martha Modl, possibly the most striking and attractive looking of Wagnerian sopranos, was also a great actress, and I suspect one had to actually see her, to get the full imapct of her performances. She could convey a whole world of feeling and meaning by just walking from one side of the stage to the other! On records she does not always come across so well: her tone could be very harsh and slightly forced. Nevertheless, there is tremendous power and commitment in her performance, and her vocal tone sounds much better here than on some of her many live Wagner recordings. Ferdinand Frantz is one of my favourite Wotans: he has the authority and feeling of Hans Hotter without the infamous Hotter "wobble". All in all, a marvellous cast on fine form, singing with a first class orchestra and a brilliant conductor. The sound quality was state of the art for 1954. What a pity Furtwangler did not live to complete what was intended as a complete studio Ring Cycle.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Apart from the need for occasional breaks, I never tire of listening to this recording. No conductor brings music more alive for me than Furtwangler: with him, the music flows like water over rocks in a stream, entirely natural and loveable. This is consistently true of this recording. When we reach a climax, we feel the pressure of the whole work behind it, so that it carries a greater charge than is possible with lesser conductors. Possibly he is too stately when Brunnhilde is calling Siegmund to Valhalla, but each time I listen to these CDs I stumble across new ravishing phrasings.

Martha Modl is my favourite Brunnhilde: with Kirsten Flagstad I'm always waiting for the sublime moments when her voice radiates its effulgent beauty, but Modl grips throughout. There is an urgency to her very likeable voice that bears witness to what a fine actress she was. One fault in her performance is that when she first enters she sounds rather like Mrs Thatcher swinging her handbag, but by the last act she transcends Flagstad. Ferdinand Frantz is magnificent, though at times in the last act he sounds a bit too cheerful. Gottlob Frick as Hunding has a suitably dark, greasy voice. I prefer the live Scala recording's Hilde Konetzni as Sieglinde to Leonie Rysanek here, but there's no denying that when she calls out for Siegmund near the end of the second act her terror is utterly palpable. Suthaus sings with great craft and feeling, though he does not sound as youthful as his character should. Overall the cast is very strong, but the Vienna Philharmonic under Furtwangler's direction is above all what makes this recording essential to anyone who loves the music of Wagner.

Furtwangler's live recordings of the Ring are stratospheric (the Rome one is my favourite), but these CDs have a much better sound quality and the autumnal splendour of a late Rembrandt.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This review is for the new re-mastering from Pristine Audio but that is comparatively expensive and not available on Amazon; this bargain Naxos issue is the next best alternative:

Now sixty years old and still the favourite studio recording of many, despite being recorded in mono, its appearance on the Pristine label in Ambient Stereo with greatly improved sound renews its claims to being the best version ever made.

How does one review afresh a recording which has been picked over by so many knowledgeable critics over so long a time? It is by now almost traditional to regret the original mono and of course the fact that it was the first and only completed recording in the projected tetralogy for EMI, as Furtwängler died only two months later.

Hitherto, the Naxos re-mastering has been the best available but direct comparison reveals that the new Pristine is a revelation, with much richer, deeper resonance, a sense of space around it and much enhanced clarity; this is immediately apparent from the moment the scurrying semi-quavers on the double basses strike up o depict Siegmund's desperate flight from his pursuers. There is still a little hiss in the upper end of the sound spectrum but its removal would undoubtedly have compromised its immediacy and removed vital frequencies; otherwise, this is one of the most significant and successful of the restorations engineer Andrew Rose has undertaken.

While it is possible to debate the relative merits of his singers, few would dispute that this is one of the best played and conducted performances on record. Furtwängler brings an epic sweep and flawless sense of pace and momentum to this, the most popular of the "Ring" Gesamkunstwerke; the violas in that peerless love music for the Volsung twins have never sounded so rich and plaintive. The balance between soloists and orchestra is near ideal. Time and again you realise that Furtwängler strikes the right note, never descending into bombast or under-selling the tenderness of this glorious music by affecting understatement.

The singing is superb; Suthaus might not properly suggest exhaustion and Rysanek is characteristically a little hooty in their opening encounter but both soon settle to deploy what are clearly major voices; he is especially thrilling at the vital climax of the first Act. Frick is ideal as Hunding: sonorous, black-voiced and menacing. Klose is clearly at the veteran stage of her career and occasionally sounds a little mumsy but she rises to some powerful, impassioned singing in her long solo. The Valkyries are an impressive bunch, featuring some soon-to-be-famous names. Mödl makes some curdled sounds in the middle of her voice and is occasionally insecure but is as ever hugely committed as Brünnhilde. Frantz has a fundamentally beautiful voice and sings with huge authority, except when strained at the very top of his voice, when it suddenly thins out.

I would not want to be without either Furtwängler's 1953 RAI or 1950 La Scala live recordings, especially as they, too, have both been so effectively rejuvenated by Pristine but this sole studio recording belongs in the collection of any true Wagnerite, especially now that it sounds so marvellous.

[This review also posted on the MusicWeb International website]
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 April 2015
Between 28th September-6th October, 1954, Wilhem Furtwängler, 1886-1954, recorded this work as the expected first stage of a complete Ring Cycle but on 30th November he died leaving Wagner lovers to wonder ‘what if….?’

Furtwängler had recorded the complete Cycle ‘live’ in Rome the previous year at the studios of Radiotelevisione Italiana, actually in one act segments, for broadcast purposes and many of those artists are also heard here. Unsurprisingly the Rome recording quality is inferior to that on this 3CD set that has been transferred for Naxos by Mark Obert-Thorn. For many, this will be almost as great a recommendation as the performers. The split between the last two CDs comes after Scene IV of Act II.

The orchestra is the Vienna Philharmonic and the cast includes Martha Mōdl, 1912-2001, as Brünnhilde; the youthful Leonie Rysanek, 1926-98, Sieglinde; Ludwig Suthaus, 1906-71, Siegmund; Gottlieb Frick, 1906-94, Hunding; Ferdinand Frantz, 1906-59, Wotan, and Margarete Klose, 1902-68 as Fricka. The Valkyries are Ruth Siewert, Erika Kõth, 1925-89, Hertha Töpper, b. 1924, Gerda Schreyer, Judith Hellwig, 1906-93, Dagmar Schmedes, 1896-1987, Johanna Blatter, 1902-65, and Dagmar Hermann, 1918-97.

Furtwängler’s conception of this work is impassioned and deeply felt right from the Act I Prelude and, even allowing for the inevitable deficiencies of the recording, he obtains an intense response from the orchestra and singers. He husbands his singers’ vocal resources and so helps to get the best from them. His moulding and shaping of the overall orchestral sound is not at the expense of ignoring the interactions of orchestral soloists. However, I am more and more won over to Keilberth’s Bayreuth’s recordings of 1953 and 1955 that add an extra level of vision and revelation to the darkness and overall sweep that we have here.

Suthaus, whom I had known only from lieder recordings, is very fine and husbands his voice rather more that Melchior, but then who wouldn’t? His passion is never in doubt and the sensitivity with which he sings ‘Wintersturme’ is riveting and makes one want to press ‘replay’ to hear this particular ‘bleeding chunk’ again and again. The eloquence and vocal shading that he shows in his recordings of Schubert lieder is exploited here to very great effect.

Rysanek has the necessarily youthful voice and shows true radiance; she and Suthaus are a very plausible couple, both finding depths in their characterisation of the enamoured twins. Do not be put off by their slightly tentative opening. It is true that those familiar with Rysanek’s later performances of Sieglinde, one of her foremost roles, may find this slightly bland in comparison. Suthaus’s exchanges with Brünnhilde in Act II are both deeply emotional and very human. Frick’s Hagen is the epitome of menace and deceit, and contrasts with the radiance of the siblings.

Acts II and III are dominated by Wotan and Brünnhilde and, whilst neither Franz nor Mödl would be the first choice of the period, both are very fine and contribute very well to the overall dramatic concept of the performance. Mödl’s register is strongest in its middle and low regions, and some may find her upper voice disappointing compared with Flagstad and Nilsson but she is a consummate vocal interpreter. Franz is, as has been pointed out, no Hotter but he is a superbly characterful singer and totally assured; after arriving in a fury that the orchestra fully matches, he brings real emotion to his Act III exchanges with his daughter and the Farewell Scene is remarkable for his vocalisation of the God’s intense psychological feeling. Klose is an experienced Fricka and that shows in her authoritative tone whilst Furtwängler’s control and direction is very clear in the Valkyries’ singing which often come across as squawking.

Obert-Thorn used finished LP pressings to obtain sound, from the Musikvereinsaal, that equates well with the best transfers and remasterings from this period. The booklet by Malcolm Walker describes the genesis of the work and details about the recording, as well as biographical information on the main soloists and the conductor. There also is a Synopsis, a brief Producer’s Note and a biography of Obert-Thorn.

Those seeking sonic excellence will look elsewhere but, as a performance of uniformly high quality and great musical understanding, this set is hard to beat even if the Rome recordings of the tetralogy demonstrate the conductor’s ultimate overarching control and expressive intensity.
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