Composer: Richard Wagner
Orchestra: The Cleveland Orchestra
Conductor: George Szell
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (tracks+cue)
Size: 398 MB
«Das Rheingold» (Das Rheingold)
Einzug der Götter in Walhall (The procession of the gods in Valhalla)
«Die Walküre» (The Valkyrie)
Walkürenritt (Ride of the Valkyries)
Feuerzauber (Spell Fire)
Waldweben (Noise Forest)
Morgendämmerung und Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt (Dawn and Siegfried’s Journey on the Rhine)
Siegfrieds Trauermarsch und Finale (Funeral March and Finale)
«Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg» (Nuremberg maysterzingery)
Vorspiel zum 1. Aufzug (Introduction to the 1st step)
«Tristan und Isolde» (Tristan and Isolde)
Vorspiel zum 1. Aufzug und Isoldes Liebestod (Introduction to the 1st step and the Death of Isolde)
Szell and his Hammer
Wagner is a Jihadist: convert to his Weltanschauung (worldview) or perish. It’s submission or nothing. The most unconvincing book in the world would be “How to Bluff your Way through Richard Wagner & Live to Tell the Tale” as such a feat is impossible. Oh yes, his devotees can always sniff out a pretender; as one who has lavished money on two Ring Cycles, three Lohengrins, two Parsifals, two Tristans, two Flying Dutchmans and a solitary Meistersingers, I swell the ranks of the latter.
Accordingly I approach this performance with trepidation – Wagnerians sneer at “bleeding chunks” and the mere mention of this disc will cause them to reach for their Lugers. Bullets aside, it’s marvellous.
The excerpts from the Ring were recorded in late October 1968 whereas the Tristan & Meistersinger date from earlier in the decade. While his detractors claim that “Szell is a machine, albeit a very good one”, here he’s a master of the realm: the grip, the feel for the long lines and the courage to impart an infinitesimal delay to proceedings in wait for sorcery. As played here, the Entry of the Gods into Valhalla is a wonder of the world: the celestial city is no nursing home for clapped-out warriors and their blades of rust: Elysium it is and the cello-line in itself is an invitation to eternalise. The Ride of the Valkyrie skirts vulgarity – how could it not – and jubilantly so. My favourite here is the Forest Murmurs from Siegfried: a quarry is afoot under the canopy of trees and it’s no animal. Perhaps the last iota of unbridled, orgasmic thrust is missing from the Liebestod (it is not in the same class as Wagner: excerpts from: Tannhauser / Die Meistersinger / Tristan) but it’s first-rate nonetheless.
For those who gorge themselves on the saturated fat of the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonic, it’s quite a jump to the “lean beef” sonority of the Clevelanders. What a lithe, iridescent and powerful instrument they were at the time – it’s worlds away from the crudity of Uncle Lorin and the Berlin Panzermonic (Wagner: The “Ring” Without Words). The remastering is beneficial, even if the residual thinness of the earlier recordings remains.
Taking this disc into the Festival House at Bayreuth would be akin to Klaus von Stauffenberg walking into the Wolf’s Lair with his suitcase: there is no room for error and you’re probably going to die and badly at that. Enjoy it on the sly.