Die Walküre

Georg Solti
Wiener Philharmoniker
29 October – 19 November 1965
Sofiensaal Wien
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegmundJames King
HundingGottlob Frick
WotanHans Hotter
SieglindeRégine Crespin
BrünnhildeBirgit Nilsson
FrickaChrista Ludwig
HelmwigeBerit Lindholm
GerhildeVera Schlosser
OrtlindeHelga Dernesch
WaltrauteBrigitte Fassbaender
SiegruneVera Little
GrimgerdeMarilyn Tyler
SchwertleiteHelen Watts
RoßweißeClaudia Hellmann

The first point to be made is that this Decca version is once again a revelation in sound, improving appreciably on the original analogue recording. It is possible to hear much more instrumental detail than before, and more than on the Philips Bayreuth recording listed above. Against that, it has to be said that the orchestra, as in all the Decca Ring recordings, is accorded much greater prominence than is the case in the theatre. Some certainly find that an advantage, but I prefer the more natural balance to be found in the Bohm set and the complete Janowski Ring on Eurodisc.

It is marvellous, for instance, to hear the very start of the opera so clear, every detail well pointed, but as the First Act progresses I was not caught up in the impassioned, tragic love of Sieglinde and Siegmund as I was when listening to the Bayreuth performance. James King sounds much less involved here than he is for Bohm. Crespin is certainly a fresher-voiced, steadier Sieglinde than Leonie Rysanek, but she is correspondingly more careful, and neither the singers nor Solti quite catch the rapture of the love duet. In brief, the act seems studio-bound. The last two acts are more satisfying in that respect because Nilsson and Hotter bring to their interpretations of Brunnhilde and Wotan all the experience of their stage partnership. In any case, Hotter’s portrayal remains hors concours where his part is concerned. He can be forgiven, in the autumn of his career, the occasional wobble in his voice in forte passages because of the immense authority he imparts to Wotan’s frustrations, anger and sorrow. Nobody else has invested the Second Act monologue with such a Lieder-like concentration of the text or brought to his anguished ”O heilige Schmach” such desperate expression, and his account of the Farewell is justly renowned. I am sure John Culshaw took the right decision in casting him for this set.

Nilsson, though not so involved as for Bohm, sings with great sensitivity and feeling, nowhere more so than in the short, moving passage after Wotan’s departure in Act 2 and at ”War es so schmahlich” in Act 3, and needless to say she rides even Solti’s orchestra with ease. Ludwig is a properly commanding and nagging Fricka, and Gottlob Frick a dour, implacable Hunding. The Valkyries ride and sing buoyantly.

Solti compensates in energy and nervous excitement what he misses in the longer view of the work: I don’t feel the inevitable, forward thrust of Bohm or quite the incandescence of Janowski. The playing of the VPO is superb and is even more lifelike now on both CD and LP issues. One drawback of CD opera issues is the tiny print that has to be used for the librettos, a particularly trying feature in such a long work as this. Final choice between Bohm and Solti will depend on what you consider most important in sound and interpretation. I have tried to make clear the differences. From a cast viewpoint, there is not much to choose between the two. But, as I said in February, I know it is Bohm that I shall return to more often, while on occasion wanting to hear the Decca for Hotter’s Wotan for the fabulous sound.’

Alan Blyth


I took very good care not to read Ralph Moore’s comments about this recording until after I’d finished all my listening. However, when I did so, I found myself in full agreement with much of what he says in his survey of ‘Ring’ cycles. I was particularly glad to read his verdict on the conducting of Georg Solti. Ralph rightly points out that “[s]ome find Solti convicted of his besetting fault of being too aggressive and driven but if anything, I find him considerably more refined and reflective [by comparison with Leinsdorf on his 1961 recording].” I strongly agree. Solti’s dynamism and urgency is much in evidence; indeed, you can hear it right at the very start, where he whips up a gale-force storm. Here, the VPO strings dig into the music as if their very lives depended on it; their thrilling playing and Solti’s conducting leave us in no doubt not only that we are in the midst of turbulence, but that further turbulent events lie ahead. Elsewhere and throughout the opera (a term I’ll use for convenience, rather than the more accurate ‘music drama’), Solti’s sense of drama and his ability to convey tension is consistently apparent. For instance, the audible tension between Brünnhilde and Siegmund in Act II, scene 4 owes as much to the conducting as to the extraordinarily committed singing of Birgit Nilsson and James King. But – and it’s a big ‘but’ in view of Solti’s reputation in certain quarters for driving music too hard – I think his conducting makes a significant contribution towards the tenderness with which we hear Sieglinde taking care of Siegmund in Act I, scene 1. Again, the thawing of Wotan’s wrath towards Brünnhilde in Act IV, scene 3, to be replaced by paternal forgiveness, would not be conveyed as successfully as is here the case were not Solti, as well as Hotter, fully sympathetic to Wotan’s change of heart. Throughout the cycle, Solti’s conducting has impressed me once again and that’s certainly the case in Die Walküre.

Ralph expressed reservations about Hans Hotter’s Wotan, remarking on his “rather laboured singing, with effortful top E’s and F’s and the “woofiness” of tone which intermittently afflicted his bass-baritone”. Ralph fairly pointed out that Hotter is heard “at his magisterial best” in cycles from the 1950s. It’s unarguable that George London, who was Solti’s Wotan in Rheingold, was in far fresher voice on that occasion than Hotter is here. I bow to Ralph’s far greater exposure to recordings of Die Walküre, but I feel that the fallibilities which he identifies are at the very least offset by the experience and gravitas that Hotter was still able to bring to the role in 1965. He announces himself with magisterial authority and great vocal power at the start of Act II and his subsequent exchanges with both Brünnhilde and Fricka are delivered in such a way that one feels drawn into Hotter’s characterisation of Wotan as if by magnetism. His narration to his daughter of the story (to date) of the Ring in Act II, scene 2 is compelling. In Act III, scene 3 he conveys Wotan’s stern anger but then, in the great Farewell to his errant daughter, he moves convincingly from anger to compassion as paternal love wins the day. Go back, however, to the live 1955 Bayreuth performance, conducted by Joseph Keilberth and recorded in amazingly good sound by a team from Decca and there you’ll hear Hotter at his sovereign best (Testament SBT4 1391). The Farewell is remarkable because Hotter pours out regal tone at the end of a long evening in the theatre; ten years later the voice wasn’t in that peak condition, even though under studio conditions he could better husband his vocal powers. Still, we must deal with what we hear on these discs and the fifty-six-year-old Hotter still had much to offer. I admired his achievement for Solti.

It’s hard to find anything to add to the countless words that have already been written about Birgit Nilsson’s assumption of the role of Brünnhilde. She’s enthralling here, singing with total conviction, great power and with her voice in prime condition. Christa Ludwig is a marvellous Fricka. In Act II, scene 1, she brings tremendous intensity to her reproach of Wotan. A little later in the same scene her exchanges with Hotter, starting from ‘Nichts lerntest du’, are searingly dramatic; this Fricka more than holds her own against the leader of the Gods.

Régine Crespin and James King are highly convincing as the doomed sibling lovers. Crespin’s singing displays great tenderness towards Siegmund at the beginning of Act I and later, as she falls for Siegmund, Crespin is very passionate: in Act II, scene 3 she matches King’s ardour. As for King, he has the necessary heroic ring to his voice. I felt completely drawn into his singing, not least when he calls on Wälse. His ‘Wintersturme’ is ardently delivered. He’s up against the brutish Hunding of Gottlob Frick. Frick’s portrayal of this malevolent character is superb – ‘Ich weiß ein wildes Geschlecht’ is full of menace and soon after he appears on the scene his casual, curt command to Sieglinde, ‘Rüst uns Männern des Mahl!’ (Prepare a meal for us men) sums up this bully in a single line of music: how on earth did Sieglinde get mixed up with such a boor? Frick is chillingly and ideally convincing in the role of this unsavoury character.

I must not omit mention of the eight Valkyries. This octet is cast from strength and they are a feisty sisterhood for Brünnhilde at the beginning of Act III. At the commencement of the Act, they’re introduced to us by the Vienna Philharmonic in full cry. The orchestra is superb throughout the opera. The recording shows off their playing in all its splendour and attention to detail. The obvious places such as the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ show the VPO to great advantage, but what caught my ear time and again were the less obvious passages. Let me give just one specific example from Act II scene 2. Just before Wotan relates the story of the Ring to Brünnhilde, immediately after Hotter has sung ‘mit mir nur rat’ ich, red’ ich zu dir’, Wagner’s orchestral scoring focuses quietly and tensely on the sepulchral depths of the orchestra: here, the deep black tonal depth of the VPO distils a potent atmosphere.

In my reviews of Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung, I’ve devoted quite a bit of time to making audio comparisons between the CD, BD-A and SACD versions of the respective recordings. You may wonder why I haven’t adopted a similar approach with Die Walküre. To be honest, I think that the two previous assignments had convinced me that the SACD is way out in front; a further set of comparisons might be tedious to read. However, I did make one comparison, choosing the last section of the opera, from the start of Wotan’s Farewell right up to the last chord of Die Walküre. The results on CD were impressive. Hotter’s opening outburst registers strongly – the voice is forwardly placed in the recording – and the orchestral contribution sounds marvellous. I was impressed. The BD-A offers a definite step-up in terms of the immediacy of the sound. However, once again, the SACD sweeps the board. Everything sounds so present. Hotter’s voice commands attention and the playing of the VPO makes a glorious impact. Just before he starts to sing, the unison horns ring out, loud and proud. In the other two formats, the sound of the horns is thrilling: on SACD, it’s an unforgettable moment. Apart from the presence and richness of the brass playing, one thing that caught my ear was the way that on SACD one can hear, more clearly than in the other two formats, each different element of the string choir in the extended orchestral passage before Hotter sings ‘Loge, hör!’. And when, shortly afterwards, Wotan strikes his spear, the sound effect is particularly successfully conveyed on the SACD. Yet again, I’m in no doubt at all that the SACD remastering shows off the Decca ‘Ring’ to optimum advantage.

In his afore-referenced Survey of ‘Ring’ recordings, Ralph Moore opined that, except for his disappointment over Hotter’s singing, “[o]therwise, I find absolutely nothing wrong with this set”. I concur and, as I’ve said, I take a slightly more charitable view of Hotter, whilst acknowledging that in 1965 he wasn’t the vocal force that he had once been. Overall, I believe this recording is a significant achievement, and my admiration for it has been significantly enhanced by hearing it in such magnificent sound.

Decca’s remastering of the recording of Die Walküre has been wholly successful, confirming that this, and the other three elements of the tetralogy, constituted a landmark in the history of opera on record.

John Quinn | MARCH 10, 2024

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Decca, London
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 524 MByte (MP3)
2.8 Mbit/s VBR, 96 kHz, 4.5 GByte (flac)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.