In 1958, work started on the great ‘Ring’ project with Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic at the helm of a crop of outstanding singers. For the first complete recording of Wagner’s tetralogy and for the first opera, ‘Das Rheingold’, Flagstad was engaged to sing a role she had never performed before, that of Fricka. Producer John Culshaw describes: ‘At about 16.20 that afternoon we made our first test of the opening of the second scene and when Flagstad sang her fist line – ‘Wotan! Gemahl! erwache!’ – the entire orchestra turned round to gape in amazement, so extraordinary was the authority and power of her voice’.
In the months of May and October the year before, she sang in recordings of Acts III (with Solti) and I (with Hans Knappertsbusch) respectively of ‘Die Walküre’. Culshaw had tried to persuade her to record the whole of Act II, but she was unwilling and in the end put down the ‘Todesverkündigung’ scene (now appearing on ‘The Flagstad Recitals’ Volume 2).
The Gramophone wrote glowingly of the Knappertsbusch recording: ‘…this account of Act I of ‘Die Walküre’remains essential listening for both aspiring and experienced Wagnerians, amateur and professional. From Knappertsbusch can be learnt the art of seamless Wagner conducting, the precise weighting of phrases, the ability to dovetail one to another. At the opposite pole from current interpretation in this field, his grand, spacious, emotion-laden conducting reminded me of just what one misses in so many of his successors. And what playing he procures from the VPO!’
Act I was recorded in September 1957 in Vienna’s Sofiensaal, Act III, five months earlier in the Grosser Saal of the Musikverein. The Penguin Guide singled it out for the radiance of Flagstad’s singing and the ‘remarkably vivid’ recording under Solti’s thrilling direction.
Act I was issued on Decca’s ‘Historic’ series and Act III first appeared in ‘The Classic Sound’ series, and the booklet for this reissue includes vivid recollections by John Culshaw on the making of these two recordings.
Die Walküre – Acts I & III
Arnold van Mill