Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (Excerpts) - Varnay, Hotter, Windgassen, Brouwenstijn, Greindl, Madeira; Knappertsbusch. Bayreuth, 1956
Listen to a Sample:
- This set features nearly 80 minutes of excerpts from the 1957 Bayreuth Ring Cycle
- This was the Ring Cycle that finally crystalized to me why Hans Knappertsbusch has the achieved the kind of cult status that few of his contemporaries have found. His brilliance was not in his conducting technique - mishaps abound in this performance - but in the intricate and specific details he manages to elicit from the orchestra and cast. His is very much a rhetorical interpretation. That is not to say that he isn't incredibly skilled at shaping musical line; It is remarkable how he can maintain musical direction even while choosing the slowest tempo imaginable. However, with every gesture and musical detail there is a clear dramatic point of view that aids enormously in the story-telling and reveals new and fascinating details in seemingly mundane orchestral gestures.
- He has the perfect partner in Astrid Varnay. Varnay relishes the vocal demands of Brünnhilde and exceeds all expectations as far as power and stamina. What is most remarkable is the synergy she has with Knappertsbusch and the understanding of the meaning behind his musical ideas. A diminuendo is never a diminuendo for her. It is an opportunity to tell the Wagner's story.
- Wolfgang Windgassen doesn't bring that same level of nuance but his Siegfried works thanks to the freshness of his tone, as well as an appealing guileless quality,
- As Wotan, Hans Hotter takes the listener on a decades-long journey.
- The rest of the cast is nothing short of legendary particularly Gré Brouwenstijn as Sieglinde and Josef Greindl as Hagen. Jean Madeira's short appearances as Erda and Waltraute will change your conceptions of those parts, and how they fit into Wagner's epic tale, forever.
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