Joseph Keilberth

Wagner: Götterdämmerung

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With this Götterdämmerung, English historical label Testamentconcluded its releases of the long un-issued first stereo recording of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen from the 1955 Bayreuth Festival performance. Shelved by Decca when it opted to record the work in the studio with Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic, the release of the first stereo Ring was eagerly anticipated by older listeners who wanted to rediscover the glory that was the '50s Bayreuth Festival and by younger listeners who wanted to know why the '50s Bayreuth Festivals were considered glorious. What will the dispassionate listener actually hear in the 1955 Bayreuth Götterdämmerung? Respectable but uninspired conducting, more than decent but less than brilliant sound, and unbelievably great singing. Joseph Keilberth was an interesting conductor in selected works of Reger and Bruckner, but his Wagner proves merely efficient without the dramatic fire of Clemens Krauss' 1953 Bayreuth Ring or the epic flow of Hans Knappertsbusch's 1956 Bayreuth Ring. Nor with the functional string and wind sections, the sometimes painfully out-of-tune brass section, and the strong but not particularly subtle tone does the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra do Keilberth any favors. Nor, unfortunately, is the live stereo sound especially impressive. True, it's grand to hear such an apparently accurate aural representation of the inside of the theater Wagner built for the Ring, but not only are there unseemly amounts audience and stage noise, but the quality of the sound itself is often too dim and distant to have real impact. By far the best thing about the performance is the principals. Astrid Varnay, with a voice powerful enough to smash atoms, is utterly compelling as Brünnhilde. Nearly as good is Wolfgang Windgassen as Siegfried. Not always the most nuanced singer, Windgassen sings here like a man possessed, even matching Varnay's passion in the opening duet. With the magnificently malevolent Gustav Neidlinger as Alberich, the aggressively malicious Josef Greindl as Hagen, Hermann Uhde as a very sympathetic Gunther, Maria von Ilosvay as a deeply pathetic Gutrune, and the very beguiling Jutta Vulpius, Elisabeth Schärtel, and Maria Graf as the Rhinemaidens, the cast at least recalls the glory that was Bayreuth in the '50s.

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Die Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), opera, WWV 86d
1
3:10
2
3:51
3
0:36
4
1:07
5
2:46
6
6:26
7
2:06
8
4:01
9
2:23
10
5:02
11
2:56
12
1:53
13
4:48
14
6:05
15
2:38
16
2:04
17
2:55
18
3:30
19
2:35
20
2:06
21
3:41
22
2:05
23
1:20
24
6:58
blue highlight denotes track pick