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Recordings

Hans Hotter & Birgit Nilsson sing Wagner & Schubert
26 Oct 2006

Hans Hotter & Birgit Nilsson sing Wagner & Schubert

Two of the most famous Wagner interpreters of the twentieth century, Hans Hotter and Birgit Nilsson, are always worth hearing in their studio recordings, and the live recordings capture the spontaneity of an actual performance with such accomplished singers.

Hans Hotter & Birgit Nilsson sing Wagner & Schubert

Hans Hotter, Birgit Nilsson, Gerald Moore, Philharmonia Orchestra, Leopold Ludwig (cond.)

Archipel Records ARPCD 0334 [CD]

$11.98  Click to buy

This CD includes restored recordings of selected performances from London in 1955 for the Wagner performances, with the Schubert Lieder from London in 1949. A bonus track contains an excerpt of Hotter singing the Holländer's entrance aria "Die Frist ist um" from a concert of the Concertgebouw from 1936 and conducted by Bruno Walter. The 1955 performances are with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Ludwig, and the Schubert selections are accompanied by Gerald Moore.

The extended scene from the second act of Der Fliegende Holländer is remarkable for its clarity of sound and fine precision. The lack of audience sounds suggests the logistics of a radio broadcast, but the recording has the ambiance of the concert hall. Both Hotter and Nilsson are prominent sonically, and the intensity of their ensemble near the end of this passionate duet conveys a sense of physical proximity that assures the audience of finely wrought execution. Left as a single long band (approximately fifteen minutes long), the excerpt is memorable for its emotional pitch.

With the excerpt from the concluding scene of Die Walküre, the sound is equally clean and resonant, with both Nilsson and Hotter sounding as if they were standing in front of the orchestra. Again, the recording connotes the isolation of a radio broadcast, since the sound is devoid of ambient noises. Nilsson opens the scene with the fresh and resonant sound for which she was known, and her precision is matched by Hotter's deeply etched bass sounds in his famous interpretation of Wotan. Recorded just two years after Clemens Kraus's Bayreuth Ring cycle with Hotter in the role, the 1955 recording affords a better sound which may be the result of the restoration implicitly made for this Archipel release. Moreover, the commanding sound of Hotter and the ringing tone of Nilsson are exciting in a performance that predates their famous recording of the same work conducted by Sir Georg Solti in his famous studio recording of Wagner's Ring der Nibelungen (on Decca/London). Like a full-length opera recording, this 1955 performance is banded into separable units, thus making it possible to return easily various memorable sections easily. Ludwig Leopold's approach to Wagner may be seen to differ from Solti's for its sparer treatment of the orchestra so as to allow the vocal lines to predominate. The perspective that comes with such a textural emphasis may seem dated, especially when the sonics Solti demanded a decade later set a different standard for Wagner recordings and is not far removed from the way that Bruno Walter treated Der fliegende Holländer in the bonus track of "Die Frist ist um" from 1936. In the latter it is possible hear Hotter from almost two decades earlier in his career. In that band Hotter's resilient bass sound is clear, with this diction punctuating the finely placed line. More than a curiosity, this band offers a point of reference that demonstrates the quality of Hotter's musicianship almost twenty years before audiences almost relied on him for this role.

As rich a selection of Wagner performances that are on this CD, the producer included four Lieder, presumably from a longer recital that Hotter gave with Gerald Moore in 1949. The microphone may be a little close, as the sound is surprisingly loud in comparison to what precedes it on the CD. Yet these tracks offer a chance to hear the famous bass singing Lieder with the idiomatic presentation one would expect of such an accomplished musician. The selections include four well-known Lieder: "An die Musik," "Meeresstille," "Am Bach im Frühling, and "Im Frühling," all performed with aplomb, as would be expected of performances accompanied by Gerald Moore.

This selection of performances by Hans Hotter is an excellent to become reacquainted with the work of this legendary baritone, or, for those unfamiliar with his voice, it can serve as an introduction. Nilsson's performances are equally strong, and her work with Hotter conveys to modern audiences the vibrancy that they brought to their Wagner performances. As to the recording itself, the reconstructed sound is remarkably clear and conveys the sonic images without introducing any distractions. Live performances like those preserved on this CD are always of interest, and the quality of those chosen for this recording makes it all the more notable.

James L. Zychowicz

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