Karl Elmendorff
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
21 July 1942
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedSet Svanholm
BrünnhildeMartha Fuchs
GuntherEgmont Koch
GutruneElse Fischer
AlberichRobert Burg
HagenFriedrich Dalberg
WaltrauteCamilla Kallab
WoglindeHilde Scheppan
WellgundeIrmgard Langhammer
FloßhildeMargary Booth
1. NornCamilla Kallab
2. NornHildegard Jachnow
3. NornCharlotte Siewert

As more and more recordings from radio archives are made public we are gradually building a portrait in sound of live opera over the past 50 years or more. This is of inestimable value for those interested in the history of the art—and indeed for the future. Little is known about the wartime performances at Bayreuth. One, the 1943 Furtwangler Die Meistersinger, was once issued on LP by Electrola (nla) and should certainly find its way on to CD. Now, as if from nowhere, Preiser produce this fascinating document from the 1942 Ring. Unfortunately they mar their enterprise by offering not a word about its provenance, the story of wartime Bayreuth, or the artists taking part. Let me try to put that right.

Elmendorff was a stalwart of the Festival for 15 years from 1927, so this was his last year on the Green Hill. His reading is full of the wisdom of the years, clear in detail, especially as far as the importance of bass lines is concerned, and with a grand overview of this, the most epic of Wagner’s music-dramas. He is supported by an orchestra that obviously knows and likes his ways. Their performance culminates in a deep, tragic account of the Funeral March and an alternately sombre and incandescent one of the Immolation. The chorus, suffering from wartime deprivations, are rusty and untidy. Marta Fuchs is known and admired for her 1937 Act 2 of Die Walkure, recently reissued by EMI on CD (5/92). Her reading of the most taxing of Brunnhilde’s three roles confirms her high intelligence. In such phrases as ”Siegfried’s Liebe” and ”Wie Sonne laute” and, above all, at ”Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott” (which exploits her rich lower notes), evincing tender accents and well-judged portamento, she reveals her comprehensive understanding of the part: she is alert to each mood, each change of temperament and alters her tone accordingly. But the more strenuous moments of Act 2 and, ultimately, the Immolation find her voice sorely stretched. She is at her very best with the urgent, eloquent Waltraute of Camilla Kallab whose narration is one of the most moving on disc, once more showing how singers of this period sang off the text—a fit memorial to an underrated artist.

Svanholm was to be become one of the Wagnerian stalwarts of post-war Covent Garden, admired as Flagstad’s partner—as recordings demonstrate. By then we thought him slightly dry in voice, but it is evident here that this was how he always sounded. Nevertheless, he compensates for some want of heft by his innate musicality and often poetic utterance, as in his Act 3 narrative and death. Another asset is Frederick Dalberg, also to make his mark later at Covent Garden. By then his tone had become unsteady: here he is a secure, sturdy, biting Hagen, full of character. I fancy he was new to the role: he’s occasionally tentative and at one place, in his dialogue with the rough Alberich of the veteran Robert Burg, loses his way. The Gunther and Gutrune are poor, the Norns only fair (Kallab apart) but the Rhinemaidens are a sensitive trio, greatly helped by Elmendorff’s precise conducting of their scene.

As a whole the sound is fuller and clearer than we have a right to expect, but there are a few moments of distortion, a deal of coughs, occasional hearings of the prompter and, at one point in Act 2, a ghostly incursion from another radio station, none important enough to invalidate interest in the whole.’

Alan Blyth


Previously issued on Preiser, Music & Arts issues this 1942 Götterdämmerung in comparable sound, but at less cost to the consumer (four discs for the price of three). In place of Preiser’s German-only annotations, we have Alan Blyth’s fair and frank assessment of this live broadcast’s vocal strengths and weaknesses. Wagner mavens surely will appreciate Friedrich Dalberg’s imposing and rich-toned Hagen, partnered by Egmont Koch as a rewarding Gunther. Apparently mezzo-soprano Camilla Kallab made no recordings. That’s a shame, for her Waltraute simply dominates the stage during the Act One Narrative. Set Svanholm’s only Bayreuth Siegfried is preserved here. Although his voice is a bit dry, his easy command of registral shifts and solid musicianship unfailingly project through the strident sonics. Martha Fuchs is an intelligent but vocally taxed Brunnhilde, whose leathery Immolation Scene is worth it primarily for Karl Elmendorff’s bedrock conducting. His perfect tempo choices and insidious transitions beckon one’s attention, and the orchestral playing improves as the opera progresses. All in all, Wagnerians with a historic bent will certainly want to hear this flawed but absorbing performance.

Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 4

Jed Distler

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Media Type/Label
Preiser, M&A, OOA, Line
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Technical Specifications
494 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 918 MiB (flac)
A production by Heinz Tietjen (1933)