on 21 July 2005
The origins of this splendid 1961 recording of Die Walküre are a bit of a muddle. In the late 1950's and early 1960's RCA made a deal with Decca/London wherein each would make a few recordings for the other. So an RCA recording would appear on Decca and vice versa. This recording was made by Decca and first appeared on RCA . In the 1970's it reverted back to Decca/London. As Solti, Bohm and von Karajan made their way through their Ring cycles this performance under Leinsdorf was largely forgotten.
It is a bracing one that fully partakes of the drama of the score and deftly paces itself to let the action unfold naturally. Leinsdorf's ear for detail is a plus in that unfolding providing subtle details that comment on the drama.
The opening 20 or so minutes of Act III are simply superb. All to often many conductors slacken up after the first 5 or 6 minutes of this act but Leinsdorf does not. The result is the confrontation of Wotan with Brunhilde and the Valkyries sustaining an air of tension that few have been able to hold. With a cast containing Brouwenstijn, Vickers and Nilsson there is no worry as to vocal quality. The stand out though is George London's Wotan. He manages to convey the many contradictory aspects of the character that few have managed to capture. This is not a single personality but a multiple one that London deftly winds his way through. Very fine recording making it hard to believe it is from 1961. The packaging is slim line and simple with a striking cover. Notes and synopsis are included and the texts can be downloaded from disc 2. I had not heard this performance in some 25 years and rehearing it was a very pleasent surprise.
on 6 November 2014
This is outstandingly good by any standard. We might all croon over the Solti Ring (which is lauded justly elsewhere) but one wonders why on earth Decca didn't let Leinsdorf loose on more operas on the basis of this. The recording quality is stunning and trounces Solti with ease, the perspectives are very real and believable and the wind machine in the opening orchestral prelude is but one good example of this more discrete and realistic technique. The orchestral playing is simply fantastic and the LSO really do let you know why they are so highly regarded, they play as if it is their last concert, marvellous.
George London is matchless, tonally secure (unlike the wobbly Hotter) and Vickers excels in a very vigorous role. The engineers made a superb job in this recording, creating a sonic spectacle of the entire opera (even though you might hear footsteps here and there, all part of the charm in one way).
If you want to explore another vision of this work then don't hesitate for one moment, and it is a real bargain. Get it before they delete it.
This recording has received its well deserved 5 stars in other reviews, notably that of Ralph Moore, so I propose to make some other observations. Its genesis is interesting, and it bears somewhat on the previous critical indifference to this first ever released Walkure in stereo (the 1955 Bayreuth productions were withheld by Decca).
Until the late 60's RCA had no separate presence in Europe-recording in Europe, pressing, publicity and distribution were all carried out by Decca on their behalf, and this resulted in many fine classical recordings including the Karajan Tosca and Carmen and the Solti Rome Opera recordings. This arrangement was very lucrative for Decca, not least because they benefited from the income from Elvis Presley recordings among others, which helped finance their ambitious classical recording programme.
John Culshaw's Ring project with Solti had already been disrupted by Decca's insistence on recording the first stereo Tristan after Das Rheingold, resulting in the postponement of Walkure-then RCA dropped their bombshell by requiring Decca to record and release a "stand alone" Walkure, with Nilsson cast as Brunnhilde to add insult. Decca had no option but to comply, but "briefed against " the resultant set which never received the promotion it deserved.
Critical opinion on its release concentrated on what it was not-not Solti, not Vienna, not part of a cycle, not Hotter etc.-rather than what it was!
In fact, it was and is arguably the finest Walkure recorded, with only Bohm and Karajan rivalling it. RCA assembled a superb cast, with the only small cavil being that David Ward is almost too noble for Hunding.
The resplendent LSO included personnel such as John Georgiadis, Barry Tuckwell, Gervase de Peyer, Jack Brymer, Dennis Wicks, John Wilbraham, Philip Jones, Anthony Craxton and Ossian Ellis to name but a few-the result is glorious playing which can stand alongside Vienna and Berlin. The recording still sounds superb, produced by Erik Smith (ne Schmidt-Isserstedt) and engineered by the incomparable Kenneth Wilkinson.
Another reviewer puts forward the view that recording Wagner in "studio" conditions is almost always doomed to failure as it is impossible to create the necessary level of dramatic release. There are so many examples of studio recordings of Wagner that confound this view that I shall not attempt to list them in this review-but this performance is certainly included in the list. Leinsdorf was a tremendously gifted and experienced conductor of Wagner, and he propels this structurally difficult work with the right amount of balance between excitement, lyricism, drama and spectacle. The problematic Act 2 does not drag either in Wotan's narration or the "Todesverkundigung " scenes, Act one is surpassed for me only by Karajan (because of Janowitz's Sieglinde) and Act 3 has an unmatched set of Valkyries leading in to the most beautiful and affecting exposition of the climax of the work I have heard.
The labyrinthine contract conditions mean that this recording has now reverted to Decca, and still has not received the promotion of the Solti recording-but is at mid price. All lovers of this work should hear this recording, and if you are looking for a mid-price version of this work, this is an outright recommendation. 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe
I have known and loved this version of Wagner's masterpiece for thirty years, first on LP, then on CD - and I remain truly mystified by the received opinion that it is inferior to the later Solti set - which is, in fact, the weakest of that tetralogy; I would favour Karajan's thoughtful, refined, beautifully sung version over that. Both the latter and this Leinsdorf set feature Vickers as Siegmund. He is in excellent voice in both but even fresher and certainly less mannered here. As for the supposed superiority of Nilsson's later assumptions of Bruennhilde - like other reviewers of this set, I just don't hear it; here, she sounds superlative and not just a chromium plated virago, either - there are moments of supreme tenderness, especially in the Todesverkuendigung. Every role is sung by voices of towering power, conviction and grandeur - especially London's magnificent Wotan, which is a worthy companion to his account of that same role in Solti's "Rheingold", another of my favourite performances. The sound is excellent; the orchestra sonorous; Leinsdorf propels the action along with tremendous gusto. Brouwenstjin is really touching and suitably febrile as Sieglinde; the slight tremulousness in her voice, with its rapid, flickering vibrato, perfect to convey Sieglinde's terror and angst. The climax to Act One with Vickers is the highlight of the set, surpassed only by Melchior and Lehmann under Bruno Walter in their elderly (1935), but still gripping, Vienna recording.
Ignore the establishment view; this is the one Wagner recording I would be found clinging to if I had to keep but one. Nobody sings Wagner today like the artists on this set - and you have to make few compromises with the quality of sound to obtain such a great performance; it's very well recorded.
on 28 July 2012
I'll leave the curious history of this recording to other reviewers, and get straight down to the performance.
I suppose we all play producer and pick-and-mix singers and orchestras. The trouble is, there's usually at least one thing that's not quite up to the standard of everything else. On this performance there are a few disappointments, but these shouldn't deter anyone from getting hold of it. And let's face it, the competition is fierce. In my view, no Sieglinde approaches the beauty and clarity of Gundula Janowitz on the Karajan/DG set. But even given that, I can't really say I'm too impressed by Gre Brouwenstijn here. That first act has got to be both lyrical and riveting - but she's neither. When it comes to that wonderful "Du bist der Lenz" she frankly sounds as though she thinks she's singing in a quite different opera - and not one by Wagner. And David Ward as Hunding is barely troubling, let alone scary. He only seems to get into the character when it's already too late. So two minuses. Rita Gorr as Fricka does a very creditable job, however.
A third minus is the occasional lack of precision in the otherwise splendid LSO. Hunding's entry, for instance, is a bit halting for my taste. But that aside, they really do play wonderfully in Act 1. Their "Ride" is, unfortunately, subject to that critical accent error that justifiably annoyed John Culshaw. The "Rides" that I have in my collection are spot-on only in the Solti and the brilliant Janowski. This LSO ride is, I fear, more rocking-horse than Valkyrie.
But otherwise the LSO is magnificent: and no one need worry about this "old" recording for sound quality - it's superb throughout, and better than many straight digital discs. The sound on this is better than the DG, less bombastic than the Solti, and has almost as much orchestral detail as the Janowski.
But the real reason for buying this is the London/Nilsson combination, which is breathtakingly good. Have either of them sounded better on record than this? The final scene is worth the purchase price on its own, with the LSO somehow being whipped along by the quality of the singing.
And Jon Vickers? Well, I've not always been an enthusiast for that voice, but of course the Karajan version that matches him with Janowitz lifts that into the stratosphere. Here, I think he's even better. Those slightly irritating vocal mannerisms - the occasionally strangulated vowels, the nasal quality - are virtually absent, and so we get the "pure" expressiveness of the character. With Leinsdorf getting the very best out of the orchestra, Vicker's "Walse, Walse" plea in Act 1 will pin you against the back of your seat - or possibly knock you out of it. Superb.
If I'm alone, and can be bothered with getting up and down to change discs, I'd start with the Solti ("Chase" opening); let the Karajan go to the end of Act 1; then put this one on for Act 2, the Janowski "Ride" at the beginnning of Act 3, and then this one again until the end.
And, incidentally, this is beautifully packaged. Who wants to give up dramatic and thoughtful CD packaging for the anonymity of a download direct to a hard disc? Not me.
If there was a six-star option, I'd give that to London and Nilsson, five stars to Vickers, four to the LSO, and never mind the rest. As it is, it averages to four stars - but everyone should have this in their collection.
on 1 August 2013
One of the great mysteries of life is why Decca in the early 1960's, having committed itself to the Solti Ring with the Vienna Philharmonic, went to the expense of recording this complete Walkure with Leinsdorf and the London Symphony a couple of years before Solti recorded his. Was it because they had Vickers under contract and he had decided that he couldn't work with Solti? Anyway . . . let's be grateful. On balance, I prefer this version to Solti's. For one thing, the sound is better (though I understand that a remastering of the Solti Ring has produced better results than is evident on the Walkure that I own), and for another, it's thrilling to hear Vickers as Siegmund. James King, on Solti's set, is fine, but Vickers's voice is one of the wonders of its age. Then there's Birgit Nilsson, sounding at least as good for Leinsdorf as for Solti, and the Wotan, George London, is to be preferred to Solti's Hans Hotter, a great singing actor caught about a decade too late. Solti does have Regine Crespin as Sieglinde -- luxury casting -- but Leinsdorf's Gre Brouwenstin, does a lovely job herself. As to the conducting, Leinsdorf isn't inferior to Solti. Neither has the gripping gravity of Furtwangler in his 1954 recording -- another must-have -- though that recording does show its age sonically. One warning -- the form in which I own this opera doesn't include a printed libretto, but real fans will surely have one for one of their other four or five Walkures!
NOTE: I have come to understand that this "Walkure" was originally released by RCA (as was Solti's "Aida"). Presumably there was some contractual agreement between what then were separate companies that the rights would at some point revert to Decca? Be all that as it may . . . a fine recording!
on 20 February 2011
I'm giving thia a re-listen, after many years.
I'd agree that this is an unfairly overlooked set - partly due to its status as an 'orphan' recording (ie, not part of recorded Ring cycle), partly because it was subsequently overshadowed by more high profile versions, in which Nilsson and Vickers reprised their roles. In truth, the Solti Walkure has too many things wrong with it to be recommendable as a first choice; and while Karajan, to my ears, fields a better team of soloists and gets closer to the heart of this work, even his reoording doesn't quite make it as a satisfactory whole.
Leinsdorf, when he is remembered at all today, tends to be pigoenholed as a 'road company Toscanini': he may not offer the striking insights into a score that other conductors can, but he does seemd to understand that this is a theatrical work, not an extended tone poem - so, the drama of Walkure (which I'm increasingly inclined to think is Wagner's most successful stage work)comes across more powerfully here than in any other version. There is no danger of Leinsdorf becoming distracted by the score's musical felicities, like some other ocnductors I could name: not that his approach is at all insensitive - just that he never forgets that this work is about narrative as much as it is about anything else.
British orchestras are often criticised for the 'politeness' of their playing in Wagner, but I don't think that cliched charge applies to the LSO here: the sound may not be 'idiomatic' (ie, they don't sound like the BPO or VPO), but it is thrilling and authentically Wagnerian. 'Decca boy' Erik Smith (who was by no means an uncritical admirer of Wagner) oversaw production, so the sound is satisfying full and rich, analogue recording at its best: though if I was doing a 'blindfold' test, I'd be surprised at the age of the recording. To these ears, this could have been made in the mid-seventies. Some will appreciate the absence of 'sonicstage' gimmicks a la Culshaw: apart from the wind machine at the beginning and thunder-clap at the end of Act 11, there are no 'effects', though stereo placement of voices is scrupulously observed.
And those voices: this is Nilsson's first official Walkure recording. She was in her early forties and was, as someone said at the time, 'a very healthy vocal animal'. Personally, I don't think her interpretation of Brunhilde changed that much over the years - if you like her in this role (and I do), then you'll like her here. Jon Vickers virtually owned the role of Siegmund during this period, almost as much as Nilsson owned Brunhilde: I have a slight preference for his performance in the Karajan version, but he's more or less equally good here. I'm slightly less enthusiastic about Gre Brouwenstijn's Sieglinde: to these ears, she sounds a little on the matronly side and can't really begin to comapare with Regine Crespin's (definitive, imo) portrayal for Solti. Can't deny that she has a great voice, though. The same applies to David Ward, the sole British singer among the principals: fine and intelligent as Ward's singing is, it's hard not to picture this Hunding as a civilised, bookish gent with an extensive library and a fine wine cellar. Not, I think, what Wagner had in mind! George London' Wotan is much as it was in his Decca Rheingold: not everyone takes to his 'gritty' tone, but that's worth putting up with for the interpretative insights he offers into the part.
In conclusion, then, this is a highly recommendable set: I'd ignore what the Penguin Guide says about it and just take it for what it is. If a recording like this were to be made today - or (even less likely) if we were to see this good a performance in the theatre - we'd all be knocked for six!
on 5 March 2010
Leinsdorf launches in at full pelt with quite possibly the fastest Storm on disc - very exhilarating. He grips the drama by the throat throughout with excellent control over his orchestra. The tone of the LSO may not be as luscious as some other world-class bands but they really show their mettle. The singing cast is of a high standard. Not everyone will warm to Brouwenstijn's voice as Sieglinde - some call it vulnerable, I would call it tremulous (For me Altmeyer for Boulez knocks her into the shade). Vickers (again not a personal favourite of mine) sings magnificently.
Nilsson's Brunnhilde is legendary and she is in fearsome form here with clean attack on the topmost notes and dead-centre pitch. The drawback is that she doesn't quite find the necessary tenderness for her long scenes with Siegmund and Wotan.
Much has been written about George London's rough-edged Wotan. He is one of my favourite singers. He copes with the high baritone aspects of the role very well and his word-pointing is first-class. If he seems inclined to bark at times one has to remember that only certain singers have the heft to appear alongside la Nilsson. This may explain why he seems angrier for longer in Act III. It is only when Brunnhilde has been put to sleep on her rock that he softens his tone - which maybe proves the point.
There are many thrills to be had from this very individual and by no means outdated recording. The sound remains first class and Leinsdorf is the master magician weaving unexpectedly beautiful tone in the Farewell music. Recommended.
on 8 June 2013
Well, I took the plunge. I already have the Solti Ring twice - and the most recent version, especially the blu-ray, is awesome-, I have the Janowski Dresden set, the Böhm Bayreuth set, Elder's Götterdämmerung and Walküre, Levine and Barenboim on CD and the Walkure act1/3 set with Flagstad so I wasn't really in need of another recording but I am preparing a study weekend on Das Rheingold and Die Walküre for the Manchester Wagner Society so I felt that I could justify it. That's my story and I am sticking to it.
Boy, is this one driven! The playing from the LSO is magnificent - well up to the standard of Vienna or Berlin and both crisper and clearer than anything from Bayreuth. (I was lucky enough to see The Ring in Bayreuth a few years ago and the live sound is amazing and not well represented by recording, I think.) There is not a weakness in the cast of this recording. I might have preferred Regine Crespin as Sieglinde and David Ward is a bit too noble for Hunding ( he was magnificent as Wotan in Scottish Opera' first Ring cycle in 1970) but these are counsels of (possible) perfection and that is really what I wanted to write. One may prefer Karajan's sound to Solti's or a live recording to a studio one but we really ought be celebrating the fact that all of these recordings are amazing, splendid achievements and stop the knocking and point scoring. I am going to Longborough for their second Ring cycle at the end of June and to the Proms for Barenboim's cycle from Berlin and I doubt that either performance will field such a cast as we have available on CD but they will be wonderful, exciting, moving, annoying and uplifting - at least, I hope they will!
Most of us came to Wagner through the medium of recording - when I was a student, I could afford the cheap seats to see the Goodall Ring on tour but Covent Garden was beyond my means- and we really should celebrate the very fact of that and enjoy. No performance or recording will ever be perfect for everyone so, please, be a little more generous.
on 19 December 2014
The end of Act one just blew me away. This has to be THE MUST HAVE recording of this opera. The conducting and singing is superb. It was a golden age and you just cannot hear singing of this quality in opera houses today - I wish!