Joseph Keilberth

Wagner: Siegfried

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Wagner: Siegfried Review

by James Leonard

The first release of the first stereo recording of the work, the historical importance of this set of Wagner's Siegfried is undeniable. Recorded by Decca at the 1955 Bayreuth Festival, this performance directed by Joseph Keilberth was to have been issued as part of the first complete Ring cycle. But persuaded that only a studio recording could do the work justice, Decca decided to shelve Keilberth's performance, a decision that led to Georg Solti recording Siegfried with the Vienna Philharmonic and ultimately to the release of a Ring cycle that many still regard as the finest ever recorded. But aside from its inherent historical value, what's its aesthetic value? While much better than average, Keilberth's Siegfried doesn't challenge the established order. The casting is mostly terrific with the youthful Wolfgang Windgassen in the title role, the masterful Hans Hotter as Wotan, the cunning Paul Kuen as Mime, the deceitful Gustav Neidlinger as Alberich, the creepy but not especially convincing Maria von Ilosvay as Erde, and the unsurpassed Astrid Varnay as the most passionate Brünnhilde yet recorded. The conducting is mostly acceptable but rarely more than that. Keilberth was a direct and unaffected conductor, qualities that do clarify the texture and elucidate the action but that don't tap the dramatic, emotional, or spiritual depths of the work. The recording is, for its time and place, quite wonderful. Aside from the obvious audience and ambient noises -- sword forging is apt to be a clangorous business -- the recording captures nearly every detail of the performance with amazing fidelity. Listeners who already know and love Solti's Siegfried, Krauss' Siegfried, one or both of Furtwängler's Siegfrieds, and one or more of Knapperstbusch's Siegfrieds may want to check out Keilberth's. Listeners who don't already know any of those performances are directed to them before checking out this one.

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