Recently in Recordings
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
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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.
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
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
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