The Kempe Ring Bayreuth 1960

There is some confusion about the Kempe Ring from Bayreuth 1960. The complete Ring has been published on LP and CD. It’s one of the best available Ring recordings because of the impressive cast and the masterly conducting by Rudolf Kempe. Wagner music lover who have bought the LPs or CDs or have gotten a copy of it assume that they have the complete first Ring cycle performed July 26-30, 1960 in Bayreuth. That’s exactly what the booklet says but it’s wrong.

The 1960 Bayreuth Ring was the first time released in the early Eighties by Melodram on 16 LPs. The mastermind behind Melodram was the late Jürgen Grundheber. He had found quite an ingenious way to get the material for the Melodram “Neu-Bayreuth” series. He had an accomplice who worked at the Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR). His partner smuggled out the tapes from the BR archive and gave them to Grundheber. Have you ever wondered why all these old Bayreuth recordings from Melodram sound so good? Melodram used the original master tapes from the BR archive! However when Grundheber was going to prepare the Kempe Ring from 1960 his partner could not find the Walküre from the first Ring cycle (July 27) because it was mislabeled as something else. The BR had recorded a second Walküre dated August 17 with Astrid Varnay instead of Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde. So Grundheber used this recording but pretended it was the Walküre from the first cycle (he gave the correct cast list with Varnay but the wrong date). Everyone who has copied since then the 1960 Kempe Ring and re-released it (like Golden Melodram) has copied the same error.

The Walküre recording from the first cycle with Birgit Nilsson is still in the BR archive and has never been released. The only known first Walküre comes from the BBC when they broadcasted the complete Ring in November 1960. Because it’s a radio broadcast the sound quality is not on the same level as the Melodram release.

Tristan

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