This 1951 recording of Dido and Aeneas brings together two superstars not usually associated with this repertoire: Kirsten Flagstad and Elizabeth Schwartzkopf. At the very least, it's an intriguing document. Geraint Jones conducts the Mermaid Singers and Orchestra in a reading that predates the research into authentic performance practice that emerged in the late twentieth century and sounds ponderous and stolid in comparison to the lean performances that have since become standard. Not least noticeable is the operatic weightiness of Flagstad's and Schwartzkopf's voices, and their generous use of vibrato, which to modern ears sounds more suited to Romantic repertoire and conspires against making the text easily comprehensible. Flagstad's Dido is deeply expressive, and her full tone is strikingly rich, particularly in her moving Lament, but she sounds somewhat matronly and there is some strain at the top. Schwartzkopf takes three roles, Belinda, the Second Woman, and the deceptive Spirit in the form of Mercury. (In the first two roles, she sings a duet with herself, "Fear no danger to ensue, the hero loves as well as you.") The British soloists are generally more persuasive, in spite of having more modest voices. Thomas Hemsley's Aeneas is pleasantly unmannered, and Arda Mandikian's Sorceress is piercing and vivid. The sound quality is generally good: clean, clear, and full.
The album is filled out with a performance of the "Immolation Scene" from Götterdämmerung recorded in 1948 with Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. It's a magical, surging performance that captures Flagstad when she may not have been quite at her peak, but she wasn't far from it. Her ease in this role, and the passionate abandon and gleaming tone with which she hurls out Brunnhilde's farewell, is an affirmation of her absolute mastery of this repertoire, but it makes her Dido seem stiff and mannered in comparison. There is some background noise, but the sound is essentially clear and resonant.