Edition Staatskapelle Dresden - Wagner: Opera Highlights / Elmendorff, Striegler, Schech, Lorenz, Et Al

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WAGNER Die Walküre: Act I (complete); 3,4,5 Wotan’s Farewell/Magic Fire Music. 2 Tannhäuser: Dich, teure Halle. 6 Allmächt’ge Jungfrau. 6 Der fliegende Holländer: Durch Sturm und bösen Wind; 1,2,4 Act II duet fragment. 1,2 Die Meistersinger: Fliedermonolog. 2 Siegfried: Act I fragment. 2 Götterdämmerung: Act I fragment 2,3 Karl Elmendorff, cond; Kurt Striegler, cond; 1 Josef Herrmann, (bar); 2 Max Lorenz (ten); 3 Kurt Böhme (bs); 4 Margarete Teschemacher (sop); 5 Marianne Schech (sop); 6 Dresden Staatskapelle PROFIL 7048, mono (2 CDs: 118:25)

This set is billed as “Edition Staatskapelle Dresden, Vol. 23.” Volumes 1 and 22 are advertised in the booklet, but I have no idea what is on the other volumes in this series. In any event, the Die Walküre and Tannhäuser selections were made in the Semper Opera House in Dresden on September 21, 1944; the rest of the recordings come from unnamed dates in December 1944, and were made at the Reich radio studio in the auditorium of the Dresden Hygeine Museum after the opera house had been closed due to fire hazards. There was no audience present at any of the sessions and the Die Walküre and Tannhäuser excerpts are probably the last existing recordings to capture the sound of the old (before it was destroyed) Semper Opera House.

It has been noted in Fanfare and elsewhere that, since Germany led the world in the use of magnetic tape, many recordings that were made, even at the height of World War II, have what was, at the time, state-of-the-art sound and no side breaks. There were even experimental two-channel recordings. Unfortunately, as the second of the two CDs in this set suggests, much of what was recorded has disappeared and probably been destroyed. The portion of the Flying Dutchman duet (so short that Senta never gets to sing) and the blood brotherhood oath from Götterdämmerung are taken from noisy 78-rpm discs. The annotations point out that it is highly unlikely that Max Lorenz, who wasn’t even a member of the Dresden company, would have been brought in just to record an excerpt that runs less than three minutes, so there must be more music that has simply vanished in the chaos and destruction of the war. The fragment from Siegfried consists of Josef Herrmann (The Wanderer) answering Mime’s last riddle and warning him that he has forfeited his head. Josef Herrmann is also heard to good effect in Sachs’s act-II monologue from Die Meistersinger , to very good effect in the duet with Daland from The Flying Dutchman , and to even better effect in Wotan’s Farewell and the Magic Fire Music. Here and elsewhere, Karl Elmendorff’s weighty, measured way with the music sometimes pays dividends, since Herrmann, a sturdy, strong singer, but hardly the possessor of a ravishing voice, takes full advantage of the space made available to him, even singing to the microphone in the more contemplative sections of the scene—it’s almost as if he’s pouring out his heart to us, not the empty Semper theater. Okay, the Magic Fire Music plods a bit but, on the whole, this is a wonderful performance of the scene. I suspect that Marianne Schech, at least after the war, became the singer you hired if you couldn’t get Grümmer, Teschemacher, or Schwarzkopf. First of all, she possesses what (at least to me) is a plain voice. She can put across something like “Dich, teure Halle” by wholeheartedly throwing herself into it, but she’s far less successful in dealing with the slow-moving (especially at Elmendorff’s tempo) Elisabeth’s Prayer because, although she’s obviously a very competent singer, her vocal color doesn’t suggest religious rapture or, indeed rapture of any kind—it’s just there.

There are several very fine recordings of the first act of Die Walküre . Although I have my reservations about this one, it has a lot going for it. Certainly Kurt Böhme’s deep, booming voice gives Hunding the proper air of menace and malice—he was only 36 years old at the time and Margarete Teschemacher seems very comfortable as Sieglinde, suggesting the character’s curiosity, which eventually develops into passion. I will confess that I have never been a fan of Max Lorenz, a Wagner stalwart of the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1930s, a lot of his singing seemed to have a metallic edge to it. Here, the metal is replaced by a pushy, effortful sound that suggests he’s working hard. (In fairness, there was a war going on and who knows what kind of a life he was leading?) Yes, I know we could use him today, but in his time, which included such Wagner tenors as Melchior, Svanholm, Ralf, and Völker, he was a second-magnitude star. Yet, Lorenz does all the “right” things here—he was obviously a well-routined Siegmund, and he certainly doesn’t ruin the performance. Let me digress and say that, a few months ago, I heard a good bit of a 1951 act I from Radio Suisse Romande, conducted by Robert Denzler. The Siegmund, Torsten Ralf, is, almost certainly, the greatest I will ever hear—better than Melchior, Svanholm, Völker, Vickers, Max Lorenz, or anyone else you are likely to think of. He sounds like Wagner wrote it just for him. Maybe he was always that good or maybe it was just “one of those days.”

Some of the louder passages come with a fuzz of distortion and, as I mentioned, a few selections are taken from hissy 78-rpms. The playing of the orchestra, while it often has an agreeable mass, is sometimes untidy, and some valuable detail is smudged by the sonority. I would say that these recordings are valuable for what they represent rather than what they actually are. There are no texts, but the German/English booklet has thorough annotations, short biographies of the singers (including Hans Hopf, who isn’t on the collection), and many illustrations—a model for a project of this sort.

FANFARE: James Miller

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: PH07048

  • UPC: 881488704853

  • Label: Hänssler & Profil

  • Composer: Richard Wagner

  • Conductor: Karl Elmendorff, Kurt Striegler

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Dresden Staatskapelle

  • Performer: Josef Herrmann, Kurt Böhme, Margarete Teschemacher, Marianne Schech, Max Lorenz