Furtwängler's mighty 1953 Ring Cycle - Part 2: Die Walküre
Another astonishing 32-bit sonic transformation thanks to XR remastering
Downloads include full scores of each act
Siegmund Wolfgang Windgassen
Hunding Gottlob Frick
Wotan Ferdinand Frantz
Sieglinde Hilde Konetzni
Brünnhilde Martha Mödl
Fricka Elsa Cavelti
Helmwige Judith Hellwig
Ortlinde Magda Gabory
Gerhilde Gerda Scheyrer
Waltraute Dagmar Schmedes
Siegrune Olga Bennings
Rossweisse Ira Malaniuk
Grimgerde Elsa Cavelti
Schwertleite Hilde Rössl-Majdan
Review of original LP issue (excerpt!)
"The superlative quality of Furtwängler's interpretation resides in his awareness that the Ring is not in any sense a beautiful and sophisticated work, a la Karajan, or a frenetically violent work, a la Solti, but a stark, heavy, brooding work, a profound tragedy set in a primitive world of ancient Teutonic gods and heroes, to whom every action and event is of the utmost existential importance—a la Wagner. And it should not be thought that this awareness translates itself into an interpretation purely by means of adopting slower tempi: for instance, Furtwängler's prelude to Act 2 of Die Walküre is taken at the same driving speed as that of Solti, but it is even more gripping because of the weight he brings to bear on the music at that tempo. But the most remarkable thing about Furtwangler's interpretation is the way he brings out the meaning of every detail of the score, a good example being the very first scene of Das Rheingold. Here the tempo is actually slower than those of Solti and Karajan, and it serves to give a lovely lazy lilt to the music of the Rhinemaidens (who after all are supposed to be basking happily in the pleasurable world of unspoilt nature) ; but one realises the full significance of this tempo when the gold lights up and the Rhinemaidens begin their ecstatic song in praise of it, since the flashing scales of semiquavers on the violins make their full impact as the kind of watery vibration Wagner meant them to be, whereas with Solti and Karajan they flash by so quickly that they become no more than a general wash of sound. In purely musical terms, violins cannot properly articulate staccato semiquavers above a certain speed. Again, when Alberich begins climbing up from the lower depths of the Rhine, and gets in a temper because the water sets him sneezing, Furtwängler gives full weight to the vicious little phrase of four descending demisemiquavers and two ascending semiquavers which gives us our first glimpse of Alberich's sadistic nature, and is to return when he starts bullying Mime in the third scene; but with both Solti and Karajan, the tempo is too quick to allow this phrase to register at all clearly.
One could go on giving examples throughout the whole score, but this would be to ignore a more positive and indefinable quality of Furtwangler's interpretation—his ability to make the music surge, or seethe, or melt, so that one has left the world of semiquavers altogether, and is swept up in a great spiritual experience. Furtwängler himself said: "However vast the scope of a Wagner opera may be, it is still made up of countless individual strands, and only the correct tempo can tie these together. The real task of the conductor—especially in Wagner—is to produce a consistent tempo. There are never 'segments' or rough divisions; everything flows smoothly. Wagner once called himself 'the master of transition', and rightly so". This performance of the Ring is a superb practical demonstration of Furtwängler's theory, since the tempi adopted are so exactly right as to allow every strand of the music to express itself to the full. One has heard the Ring many times, and one feels that one knows just what to expect from the many great peaks of the score; but hearing them again under Furtwängler—the Descent to Nibelheim, the love-duet in Act 1 of Die Walküre, the Ride of the Valkyries, Siegfried's forging of the sword, Siegfried's Funeral March, and the closing scene of Götterdammerung—one realises that there is far more in this music than one has got out of it since one last heard Furtwängler."
D. C. The Gramophone, September 1972
Read in full here
Notes on the recordings:
There are two full recordings of Wagner's Ring cycle conducted by Furtwängler, but neither is the full studio recording planned by EMI to begin in 1954 and left incomplete by the conductor's death at the age of 68 on 30th November of that year. There is a 1950 recording of his La Scala cycle, and this, a series of recordings made for broadcast on Italian radio (RAI) across ten sessions in October and November 1953 in front of a very quiet invited audience.
The final broadcasts were cut from both these recordings and taped rehearsal sessions, as chosen by Furtwängler and the RAI engineers the day after recording. The recordings were broadcast a short time after but were not commercially issued until the early 1970s on LP by EMI.
Two CD reissues I've examined closely - EMI in 1990 (reissued without apparent alteration in 2011) and Gebhardt in 2005 - managed between them to reduce the quality achieved by those 1972 LPs. EMI's issue has come under criticism for its dull and rather dead sound, whilst the Gebhardt's choice of equalisation is at best unusual, and the sound quality is - according to one's tastes - either improved or severely degraded by the kind of dynamic compression which more usually graces rock music recordings. The latter, which raises the levels of everything by squashing them all into a smaller dynamic space, has the additional side effect of boosting hiss levels throughout.
Pristine's 32-bit XR remastering aims to avoid these pitfalls: using predictive, ultra-sensitive re-equalisation to tease out of the recording the precise frequencies expected from Die Walküre in the proportions expected of them, it expands the lower frequencies to provide a fuller and more convincing bass whilst extending the upper treble to produce natural clarity and sparkle, whilst avoiding excessive noise or hiss. Although this recording had a number of shortcomings: a tendency to peak distortion in places; a large number of bass thuds and bumps; these have largely been eradicated or ameliorated, and the result is particularly satisfying and enjoyable - especially if you have the Ambient Stereo version!
NB. Downloads, both in FLAC and MP3 format, of each act of this recording are continuous throughout, with no gaps, as broadcast. However in order to accommodate the timing shortcomings of the compact disc medium, short fades have been applied to CD starts and finishes as appropriate. I have however retained the musical timing of the original performances - thus the precise start point of CD2 continues from the precise end point of CD1, and so on.
CD covers to print:
CD-writing cuesheet (save as .cue):
Triple album: cue sheets included
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