For older Wagnerians, the era of the great Rings was not the Fifties or the Forties but the Thirties. That, they said, was the real golden era of true Brünnhildes like Frida Leider, of true Siegfrieds like Lauritz Melchoir, and of true Wagner conductors like Thomas Beecham. While some might dispute Beecham's standing as a Wagnerian in an age that included Furtwängler, Toscanini and Walter, the English conductor had known, loved and conducted Wagner's music dramas since his earliest days on the podium, and furthermore, Beecham was at the height of his powers in the Thirties, at his most incisive, his most passionate, his most intense and, above all, his most dramatic. In this recording of Covent Garden's 1936 Ring, Beecham, Leider and Melchoir create a truly great performance of Act II from Götterdämmerung. This is Leider's Brünnhilde at her most passionately human if overwhelmingly furious, Melchoir's Siegfried at his most gloriously heroic if utterly clueless, and Beecham's Wagner at his most extravagantly theatrical and unbearably tragic. In Act II, Melchoir's Siegfried, the hoodwinked hero, unwittingly assures his fate, and Leider's Brünnhilde, the betrayed heroine, whole-heartedly swears his death while Beecham drives them along with the other soloists plus the orchestra and chorus of the Covent Garden unerringly and relentlessly towards the final curtain. The inclusion of the second and third scenes from Act I of the same production plus a 1928 recording of Leider singing Brünnhilde in the Immolation Scene and a pair of 1927 recordings of her singing the same role in Act II Scene 3 of Die Walküre and Act III Scene 3 of Siegfried are splendid fillups -- and a wonderful reminder to young listeners that older Wagnerians do know what they're talking about.
Guild's re-mastering is about as good as can be imagined. It's probably not what it was like to be there when the performances were recorded in 1936, but it's probably very close to what the original recordings like -- except, of course, cleaner, clearer and less constricted.