Imagine poor Astrid Varnay's confusion. As Brünnhilde in the 1952 Bayreuth Ring cycle from which this performance is taken, she ended the opera Siegfried in bed with Bernd Aldenhoff and woke up at the start of Götterdämmerung with Max Lorenz. But imagine also her relief; the former was a blustering blowhard of a Siegfried, the latter a heroic he-man, who immensely enhances the success of this performance. Lorenz's strong, confident voice and palpable stage presence so energizes Varnay in the Act I love duet that the listener is likely to be completely swept away by their passion. All but one of the singers here are excellent. Josef Greindl is frighteningly effective as Hagan, and Gustav Neidlinger as Alberich sounds like the aural embodiment of evil. Martha Mödl is wonderfully sympathetic as Gutrune, and Hermann Uhde, while not as impressive as the rest of the cast, is still quite good as her weak-willed brother, Gunther. If all one needed for a great Götterdämmerung was a great cast, this would be a great Götterdämmerung.
The opera needs a great conductor, though, and Joseph Keilberth doesn't fill the bill. He is skillful at holding everything together, and he's exciting, making the big moments tremendously thrilling. But Götterdämmerung is an opera that needs profundity, a quality difficult to define, but one that listeners recognize when they hear it. It is evident in the Götterdämmerungs of Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, and Krauss, but not here. This is instead a grand opera that's performed with plenty of power and drama, but that's missing the inexorable flow, the immense depths, and the enormous heights of the greatest performances. Listeners may enjoy and even be moved by this Götterdämmerung, but are not likely to be left drained and exalted. Considering its source is a 1952 live performance, the sound here is very fine. The orchestra sounds like it is in a pit (which it is), but Varnay, Lorenz, and especially Greindl sound like they are only a few feet away from the listener, and the effect is positively frightening.