Von Karajan and the '51 Walküre
In Borders last week, I saw that Herbert von Karajan's 1951 EMI recording of Act 3 of Die Walküre has made its way back onto the market in a Great Recordings of the 20th Century release. Perhaps I'm wrong, but this release is - perhaps - a response to the 1955 Keilberth Ring on Testament. In any event, this is a splendid development. The number of golden age tapes lingering around the vaults of the major companies - especially those recording at Bayreuth -
Of course, the most famous issue from the 1951 Festspiele - the first after the war - is Furtwängler's incandescent Beethoven 9th. Knappertsbusch's Parsifal isn't far behind, but the 1962 Philips record is probably more famous. As I recall, and I am sure that someone will correct me, Von Karajan and Knappertsbusch split the Ring performances in '51. This Walküre has Astrid Varnay singing the eponymous role and Leonie Rysanek singing Sieglinde. Compared to Von Karajan's Deutsche Grammophon set, this is traditional Wagner.
No "chamber Wagner," not as though one could get away with that on the Green Hill before 1967, or - safely - 1976. In fact, compared to the light touch and stripped-down textures of the later recordings, the Bayreuth Walküre is thrilling and muscular. His timings are not much off Solti's benchmarks. This goes to prove my point that before 1965 (though I've long said 1975), Von Karajan was indeed das Wunder Karajan. There is, though, a terminus post quem where Von Karajan insisted on glossy sound and light textures. Of course, for Bruckner, that works fine; Wagner is a different beast.
This is, hopefully I think, the herald of re-releases coming from major labels. Testament's product is hobbled by a price tag that, shall we say, keeps Keilberth in the hands of the aficionados. After years of Wagner interpreted by those who have less than competence to do so, maybe it's time to bring the golden age back.