It's still easy to imagine the anticipation that must have attended the Bayreuth Festival in 1951 when it reopened for the first time since the war. This was the epoch-making summer when Wieland Wagner began to unveil a bold rethinking of his grandfather's canon--and to distance his art from the ideological trappings of the Third Reich--through increasingly austere and abstract productions. One member of the recording teams on hand (rivals EMI and Decca) was John Culshaw, who would later become famous as the mastermind producer behind the first and still most-popular studio recording of the Ring. Despite problems with the rest of the cycle, Culshaw managed to register its epic concluding work to his satisfaction. Yet that legendary G？tterd？mmerung sat in the archives for almost half a century due to contractual complications. This release at last makes its glories available.
Conductor Hans Knappertsbusch--a master of the grand old tradition who is above all prized for his incomparable accounts ofParsifal--presides over a majestically scaled performance right from the doom-coloured opening chord. Its cumulative power builds like a juggernaut. Though Knappertsbusch's famously weighty pacing makes this probably the slowest G？tterd？mmerung on record, the tempi rarely feel distended but rather enable Wagner's densely webbed late-style ripeness to reverberate with its full emotional resonance. Knappertsbusch also knows how to keep a particular dramatic moment taut without losing his command of the larger context, as in the confrontation between Br？nnhilde and Waltraute or Act II's vengeance trio. And in the funeral march you won't hear Soltian muscle but a profoundly resigned summation far subtler in its impact.
The relatively young cast features some of Bayreuth's finest post-war artists, several making their festival debut during the 1951 re-opening. Astrid Varnay proves her claim as Flagstad's successor, imbuing Br？nnhilde's transfiguring love and subsequent betrayal with a presence that is completely gripping from the beginning to the cycle's cataclysmic end. Variety of colour endows Bernd Aldenhoff's Siegfried with more dimensions than most interpreters; he can be sweet-voiced or imperious, rising to glory in the Act I duet and summoning a blustery bravado in his scene with the Rhinemaidens. Marth M？dl's angsty, dark-hued tone gives Gutrune an intensity far beyond the usual passive dimwit, while Hermann Uhde portrays her brother--despite his straining upper range--as a complex tangle of ambition and self-doubt. An integral part of this tremendously tight-knit ensemble is Ludwig Weber's intimidating Hagen. He gives the villain a truly Iago-like scope, brooding in the malignancy of his monologues and striking a chord of sheer terror in the scene of Siegfried's murder. In short, this set belongs in the collection of anyone interested in the performance of Wagner--or of great musical drama, period. --Thomas May
Prologue: Welch Licht Leuchtet Dort?
Prologue: Dammert Der Ta?
Prologue: Dawn/Tagesgrauen/Lever Du Jour
Prologue: Zu Neuen Taten, Teurer Helde
Prologue: Mehr Gabst, Du, Wunderfrau
Prologue:O Heilige Gotter
Prologue: Siegfried's Rhine Journey
Act One, Scene One: Nun Hor, Hagen
Act One, Scene One: Ein Weib Weib Ich
Act One, Scene One: Vom Rhein Her Tont Das Horn
Act One, Scene Two: Wer Ist Gibichs Sohn?
Act One, Scene Two: Begrube Froh, O Held
Act One, Scene Two: Vergab Ich Alles
Act One, Scene Two: Gunther, Wie Heibt Deine Schweter?
Act One, Scene Two: Bluhenden Lebens
Act One, Scene Two: Was Nahmst Du Am Eide Nicht Teil?
Act One, Scene Two: Hier Sitz Ich Zur Wacht
Act One, Scene Three: Altgewohntes Gerausch
Act One, Scene Three: Hor Met Sinn, Was Ich Dir Sage!
Act One, Scene Three: Welch Bager Traume Maren
Act One, Scene Three: Blitzend Gewolk
Act One, Scene Three: Brunnhild! Ein Freier Kam
Act One, Scene Three: Jetzt Bist Du Mein
Act Two: Prld
Act Two, Scene One: Schlafst Du, Hagen, Mein Sohn?
Act Two, Scene Two Hoiho, Hagen!
Act Two, Scene Three: Hoiho! Hoihohoho!
Act Two, Scene Three: Rustet Euch Wohl
Act Two, Scene Three: Crob Cluck Und Heil
Act Two, Scene Four: Heil Dir, Gunther!
Act Two, Scene Four: Brunnhild, Die Hegrse Frau
Act Two, Scene Four: Gegrubt Sei, Teurer Held
Act Two, Scene Four: Einen Ring Sah Ich An Deiner Hand
Act Two, Scene Four: Betrug! Betrug!
Act Two, Scene Four: Helle Wehr! Heilige Waffe!
Act Two, Scene Four: Glaub, Mehr Zurnt Es Mich Als Dich
Act Two, Scene Five: Welches Unholds List
Act Two, Scene Five: Vetraue Mir, Betrogne Frau!
Act Two, Scene Five: Auf, Gunther, Edler Gibichung!
Act Two, Scene Five: So Soll Es Sein!
Act Three: Prld
Act Three, Scene One: Frau Sonne Sendet Lichte Strahlen
Act Three, Scene One: Ein Albe Fuhrte Mich Irr
Act Three, Scene One: Siegfried!
Act Three, Scene One: Ein Goldner Ring Ragt Dir Am finger!
Act Three, Scene One: Behalt Ihn, Held
Act Three, Scene One: Weialala Leia
Act Three, Scene Two: Hoiho!
Act Three, Scene Two: Trink, Gunther, Trink!
Act Three, Scene Two: Mime Hieb Ein Murrischer Zwerg
Act Three, Scene Two: In Leid Zu Dem Wipfel
Act Three, Scene Two: Was Hor Ich?
Act Three, Scene Two: Brunnhilde, Heilige Braut!
Act Three, Scene Two: Funeral March
Act Three, Scene Three: War Ds Sein Horn?
Act Three, Scene Three: Hoiho! Hoiho!
Act Three, Scene Three: Siegfried-Siegfried Erschlagen!
Act Three, Scene Three: Schweigt Eures Jammers Jauchzenden Schwall
Act Three, Scene Three: Starke Shceite Schichtet Mir Dort
Act Three, Scene Three: Wie Sonne Lauter Strahlt Mir Sein Licht
Act Three, Scene Three: O Ihr, Der Eide Ewige Huter!
Act Three, Scene Three: Mein Erbe Nun Nehm Ich Zu Eigen
Act Three, Scene Three: Fliegt Heim, Ihr Raben!
Act Three, Scene Three: Grane, Mein Rob, Sei Mir Gegrubt!