Hans Knappertsbusch
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
4 August 1951
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedBernd Aldenhoff
BrünnhildeAstrid Varnay
GuntherHermann Uhde
GutruneMartha Mödl
AlberichHeinrich Pflanzl
HagenLudwig Weber
WaltrauteElisabeth Höngen
WoglindeElisabeth Schwarzkopf
WellgundeHanna Ludwig
FloßhildeHertha Töpper
1. NornRuth Siewert
2. NornIra Malaniuk
3. NornMartha Mödl

This is a famous performance, one that has not previously been issued. The recording engineer was Decca’s John Culshaw and the set was supposed to be recorded for that label, but there were contractual problems that prevented release until now. What we have is very good 1951 sound from Bayreuth–a bit boxy, but certainly professional–and a stellar performance.

There is no denying how granitic Hans Knappertsbusch could be, and for the most part tempos, compared with almost any other performance available, are quite slow. The only time this is a problem is at the start of Act 3–it seems that Siegfried and the Rhinemaidens will go on chatting forever; elsewhere, such as in Waltraute’s monologue, gloriously performed by Elisabeth Höngen, the pacing has an inner tension that makes speed a non-issue. The scene before Siegfried’s death is likewise slow, but we hang on every word of the recounting of his story, especially knowing what’s coming. Here and elsewhere Bernd Aldenhoff is a fine Siegfried, singing with big, plentiful sound, and only occasionally flying sharp. He’s absolutely tireless throughout, and if he isn’t the most moving Siegfried on discs, he’s certainly among the most manly.

Astrid Varnay’s Brünnhilde is sung with the same tirelessness as Aldenhoff’s Siegfried, but she has the advantage interpretively: She’s potent, telling, and immensely noble, and sings without a hint of the ugliness that plagued her voice just a few years after this recording was made. Ludwig Weber’s Hagen is as nasty as could be, and three-dimensional to boot–he really shines in the trio that ends Act 2. Hermann Uhde’s Günther is just the right combination of weak and proud. Martha Mödl does double duty as Gutrune and the Third Norn; as the former she almost steals the show, as the latter she’s appropriately doom-laden. Just for the record, the Woglinde is Elisabeth Schwarzkopf; the rest of the cast is Bayreuth at its best. This is a valuable addition to the Wagner discography.

Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 7

Robert Levine

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Testament, GM, OOA
Technical Specifications
348 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 707 MByte (flac)
Recorded by Decca but not released.
A production by Wieland Wagner (premiere)