Der Ring des Nibelungen

Hans Knappertsbusch
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
27 July 1958 (R), 28 July 1958 (W)
30 July 1958 (S), 1 August 1958 (G)
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre


Classics Today

At the outset let me say that Melodram now offers the best sounding incarnation yet of Hans Knappertsbusch’s live 1958 Bayreuth Festival Ring Cycle. The performances, however, prove less consistent compared to those from Kna’s previous seasons. In 1956, for instance, Das Rheingold’s slow tempos were propelled by subtle inflections and a strong sense of inner rhythm. Two years later, the long route to Valhalla detours through Drag City. In Die Walküre Kna’s schlumpy beat sucks all the excitement and life out of each act’s opening prelude, and Götterdämmerung’s instrumental showpieces similarly waddle in rhythmic murk. There are frequent instances of ensemble slippage (try the end of Siegfried’s Forging song for size), and voices weave in and out of balance, depending on how far the singers wander from the microphone. In general Kna offers his most concentrated and sensitive support in softly scored conversational scenes, such as Wotan’s Act 2 Monologue in Die Walküre, the long Mime/Wanderer encounter in Siegfried Act 1, and Waltraute’s Narrative in Götterdämmerung Act 1.

Hans Hotter’s Wotan is as much a vocal and dramatic presence as ever, while Astrid Varnay takes more time than usual to fully activate her big voice. Compared to Bayreuth regular Gustav Neidlinger’s vivid, characterful Alberich, Frans Andersson is merely a fine singer. As Mime, Gerhard Stolze is less prone to cackling and exaggeration than in his later commercial traversals. 1958 brought forth one of Josef Greindl’s freshest, most responsive Hagens, and Leonie Rysanek’s often unwieldy Sieglinde is happily all of a piece. She’s partnered by the young Jon Vickers’ musicianly Siegmund at its most direct and resonant (no crooning his way through “Winterstürme” back then!). Windgassen’s finest moments include his tender musings in Siegfried Act 2 and, in Götterdämmerung, his purely vocal characterization of Siegfried’s unwitting transformations. While the 1956 Bayreuth set remains first choice for Wagnerians in quest of a Knappertsbusch Ring, 1958’s finest vocal performances still are well worth hearing.

Artistic Quality: 5
Sound Quality: 6

Jed Distler

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Media Type/Label
GM, Hunt, Arkadia, Walhall Eternity
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Technical Specifications
392 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 2.58 GiB (flac)
Broadcasts from the Bayreuth festival
A production by Wieland Wagner (1951)