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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Wagner in good 50's sound, 23 Jan 2007
By 
M. Almond (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner: Die Walkure (Audio CD)
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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My most-listened-to recording, 3 May 2008
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This review is from: Wagner: Die Walkure (Audio CD)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable to the true Wagnerite, 12 Mar 2014
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner: Die Walkure (Audio CD)
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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