Composer Richard Wagner
Artists Astrid Varnay (soprano,) Wolfgang Windgassen (tenor), Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra/ Conductor: Joseph Keilberth
OK, so I know that January’s CD of the Month was also an opera, but what is one to do when faced with a set that reduces you to helpless, awestruck admiration and tears by its close? This is a worthy conclusion to a magnificent cycle.
As before, most of the cast, familiar from other recordings, surpass themselves here. Windgassen may be more vocally secure for Solti but nowhere else is he so tender, so moving as here. Josef Greindl is a far more saturnine, charismatic Hagen here than elsewhere. But it is Astrid Varnay who is the great revelation. In one stroke she is elevated, in my view, from one of a batch of leading Brünnhildes (and never in my top five) to perhaps the very greatest of them all. Her radiance, her femininity, above all her understanding (the essential quality) in the Immolation are overwhelming. Her hurt at Siegfried’s betrayal and her subsequent lashing out are devastating. Combine all that with Hermann Uhde’s ideally weak-willed Gunther and Keilberth’s irresistible conducting and, well, the tears just flow.
Gramophone reviewer Alan Blyth says: ‘One wonders anew at the fidelity of the sound, the dedicated intensity of the orchestra and the uniform strengths of every member of a memorable cast, the like of which is hardly likely to be heard again... As I write, the noble peroration still haunts my ear, a summation of everything that has gone before, Keilberth making it the fitting end of his electrifying interpretation.
‘All the participants seem aware that they are taking part in a memorable reading and are determined to give of their very best. I am quite certain that this cycle will be hailed everywhere as the one to have... in every respect fulfilling Wagner’s exigent demands.’
James Inverne is editor of Gramophone. A full review is published in the February issue.