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More Details for IPCD 1018 Lohengrin 1940

Reviews for IPCD 1018-3



Wagner Lohengrin


Mel Siegel - The Record Collector, September 2012


Elisabeth Rethberg (Elsa), Kerstin Thorborg (Ortrud), Lauritz Melchior (Lohengrin), Julius Huehn (Telramund), Emanuel List (King Henry), Leonard Warren (Herald), Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf.


Live: Metropolitan Opera, 27 January 1940


Bonus - Lauritz Melchior Rare Broadcast Recordings 1935/1936 Immortal Performances IPCD 1018-3 (3 CDs)


This set represents Richard Caniell's second release of this historic performance. I reviewed its previous incarnation as Guild Historical GHCD 2278/80 in Volume 50 NO.3 of The Record Collector in September 2005. I was most enthusiastic about the performance then, and I find that my enthusiasm has only increased in the intervening seven years.


There are several reasons for this. The first of these, and the primary reason for this re-release, is that Caniell has somehow succeeded in finding an even better source than he used in 2005. In the first place, this new source is complete and therefore no interpolations from other performances are necessary, as was previously the case. This source even includes all of Milton Cross's commentary, enabling us to hear the proceedings as they were originally broadcast in 1940. Furthermore, the sound quality of this new source is an improvement over the already excellent quality of the prior source. This fact, together with Caniell's usual sonic wizardry, results in an astonishingly vivid aural experience, which gives us a startlingly realistic vocal picture of these legendary Wagnerian performers.


Having said all this, the main reason for my increased enthusiasm is the fabulous quality of the performance, especially in view of the fact that the standard of Wagnerian performance, already dismal in 2005, has only declined, further since then. At a time when tenors who should be singing Tamino are presented as heIden tenors, to hear singers with the voices and resources of Melchior, Rethberg and Thorborg seems almost surreal. These three artists are, of course, legendary and it is easy to hear the reasons why in this live (!) performance - voices of striking quality, seemingly inexhaustible vocal resources in terms of stamina and the ability to ride over and through the massive Wagnerian orchestra and, most importantly of all, the interpretative insights and instincts to create living three-dimensional characters.


Emanuel List, as King Henry, was not having one of his better days, but even so there is no doubt about his stature as a major artist. In the accompanying booklet, Caniell gives faint praise indeed to Julius Huehn as Telramund, but there is no one today who even remotely compares to him in vocal quality and his ability easily to meet all the demands of this demanding role. Add to this the Herald of the young Leonard Warren, and the galvanizing conducting of Erich Leinsdorf, and the result is a performance of legendary quality. In addition, as I stated in 2005, these artists had worked together over a period of years and so were able to create an experience which has a compelling sense of drama with a complete unity of style and purpose. This is one of the absolutely supreme performances of Lohengrin. If you do not already possess it, waste no time in acquiring it!




Wagner Lohengrin


Colin Clarke - FANFARE, November/December 2012


Erich Leinsdorf, cond; Lauritz Melchior (Lohengrin); Elisabeth Rethberg (Elsa); Kerstin Thorborg (Ortrud); Julius Huehn (Friedrich); Emanuel List (King Henry); Leonard Warren (Herald); Metropolitan Op O & Ch.

IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1018 (3 CDs: 187:44) Live: New York 1/27/1940


& WAGNER Träume.1 Die Walküre: Winterstürme.1 Lohengrin: In fernem land.2 GRIEG Jeg elsker dig2 • possibly Frank Black, cond; Lauritz Melchior (ten); NBC SO. Live: New York 11/17/1935, 23/8/1936 (16:00)



The idea of a Wagner performance with such luminaries as Elisabeth Rethberg and Lauritz Melchior topping a cast that included Emanuel List is mouthwatering. Even the Herald was luxury casting (Leonard Warren, in fine voice). This 1940 broadcast ticks all the boxes.


The Prelude to act I is simply stunning. It is not just the purity of the high strings, more the way in which that purity conjures up the realm of the spirituality of the Grail, of the chivalrous knight, even of the white swan (as it turns out, it could be heard in retrospect to prefigure the heavenly voice of Rethberg, too). This is a glowing performance. A little while later, the act III Prelude is its polar opposite, jet-propelled and clearly not stopping for anything.


It is Rethberg who in the end steals the show (this is her only preserved complete Elsa), even from Melchior. In 1940 she was toward the end of her career, and brought all of her experience to bear here. Her “Einsam in trüben Tagen” makes one forget the prevailing crackle, and as her voice soars, one is immediately transferred to this era shrouded in mystery. Her radiance shines bright in the otherwise darkness-enshrouded second act, and she shines ever more brightly in the final act.


Melchior is as charismatic as one might expect. There are some sonic considerations around his entry, as the sound suddenly constricts at his “Heil König” (CD 1 track 9) before opening somewhat thereafter. But there is no doubting the openness of his voice (“Heil dir, Elsa,” near the close of act II, offers a case in point). It is in the third act that his powers become most evident, whether in the ardor of his scene with Elsa, his admonishing “Höchstes Vertrau’n,” or in the final moments. Indeed, it is Melchior’s opera from “In fernem Land” onward, and the sheer vocal strength he displays is breathtaking, coupled with a heroic lyricism that seems to epitomize the character he portrays. The culminating unveiling of his name is underpinned by huge chords from Leinsdorf.


Melchior is as charismatic as one might expect. There are some sonic considerations around his entry, as the sound suddenly constricts at his “Heil König” (CD 1 track 9) before opening somewhat thereafter. But there is no doubting the openness of his voice (“Heil dir, Elsa,” near the close of act II, offers a case in point). It is in the third act that his powers become most evident, whether in the ardor of his scene with Elsa, his admonishing “Höchstes Vertrau’n,” or in the final moments. Indeed, it is Melchior’s opera from “In fernem Land” onward, and the sheer vocal strength he displays is breathtaking, coupled with a heroic lyricism that seems to epitomize the character he portrays. The culminating unveiling of his name is underpinned by huge chords from Leinsdorf.


Kerstin Thorborg replaced an indisposed Karin Branzell to deliver a gripping Ortrud. Her scene with Huehn at the beginning of act II confirms not only her dramatic status, but also how well (it turned out) she contrasted with Rethberg in this performance, a true black to Rethberg’s white. Her moment is perhaps the end of act II, and vocally here her shrieking seems the sonic embodiment of the dark side.


Amazing to think that Leinsdorf was only in his late-20s at this time. He steers the performance in masterly fashion. He seems most at ease in the dark second act. The Met chorus is in excellent voice throughout. Perhaps the lustiness of “In Frühn versammelt uns der Ruf” is its highlight, with “Treulich geführt” coming a close second.


The team at Immortal Performances has done a sterling job on its recorded sources. There is what sounds like a slight rhythmic curtailment of an octave drop for some technical reason (CD 1, track 10, 17 seconds in), and some zooming in and out on CD 2, track 8 (between the seven- and eight-minute mark), but in context these are minor gripes. Even the massive choral climax in act III, though it challenges the boundaries of what was possible, survives. There is some stage noise, too, but if you care about that you probably haven’t read this far anyway. Sonically, this Lohengrin is immensely listenable. Musically, it is indispensable.


There are extras, too, rare Melchior broadcast recordings from 1935/36. Milton Cross again introduces. Good to hear Melchior in “Träume” (Wesendonck-Lieder, 11/17/1935), a nice example of his ability to shade subtly. The “Spring Song” from Walküre act I (11/17/1935) is tremendous although it lacks the edge of being part of a complete live performance. The Lohengrin excerpt, “In fernem Land” (3/8/1936), in contrast, is mesmeric, Melchior’s bright voice shot through with wonder as he recounts his mystic tale. High notes have either Luftpausen or full-blown pauses over them (that on “Taube” puts a smile on this reviewer’s lips, ditto that on the culminatory “Gral”); moreso than at the Met in 1940, certainly. The end of the excerpt is the concert ending, and we are naturally but cruelly deprived of the magical chorus entrance.




Wagner Lohengrin


Paul Steinson – Classic Recordings Quarterly, Autumn 2012


Immortal Performances issued this recording about ten years ago, but as Richard Caniell explains in his notes, the source of that issue had many serious problems (including the complete lack of the Act 1 Prelude) which could only be partially cured. His discovery of a new source that is both complete and in considerably better sound has prompted him to issue this entirely new edition.


If not quite as consistently stellar as the 1935 Met Lohengrin (Melchior, Lehmann, Schorr, Lawrence – I wonder if Caniell has been able to discover a recording of that in decent sound which he could issue), this performance has a wonderful cast, including the only complete recording of Rethberg’s Elsa. This was, unfortunately, caught just a little too late for the voice to be heard in its prime, but it is still mightily impressive. Unlike Melchior, who was able to replicate the commitment and drama of his stage performances in the studio, Rethberg’s records are often beautifully vocalised but can be rather staid and lacking specific detail. Here we can really understand her great reputation; the performance has a momentum and life, which paints in oils what is there only in sketch form in the studio discs. In the Bridal Scene, unlike many sopranos, Rethberg suggests the paranoia which Ortrud has insinuated into her mind right from the start, and does not just sing beautifully.


Melchior is, of course, wonderful. His voice shines like Lohengrin’s armour, but he also has the ability so rare in Heldentenors to sustain pianissimo legato. The comparatively straightforward character of Lohengrin probably suits him better than the psychologically complex Tristan, and he encompasses almost every aspect of the role in a way that is possibly unique. I was a little disappointed by both of his addresses to the swan; if one compares with De Lucia or Wittrisch (to take just two very different singers) he is not as delicate, one might almost say loving, as they are. But this is nitpicking of a most ungrateful kind; this is a performance which comes as close to perfection as anyone could reasonably ask.


Thorborg, who was replacing an indisposed Karin Branzell, is severely taxed by the highest-lying part of the role in the final scene, but otherwise gives a performance in no way unworthy of Melchior and Rethberg. Like Melchior, her voice is rock-steady and she has the ability to shake the rafters, but also to sing very quietly without losing quality. She is a subtle villainess, and her planting of suspicion in Elsa’s mind is very well done. The other two men are on a lower level. Neither is remotely poor, but Huehn is rather anonymous (though I suppose so is Telramund, who largely just does as he is told) and I have never cared for List’s unsteadiness. There is one real piece of unexpected luxury casting. The young Leonard Warren sings the role of the Herald (his only role in German) exactly a year after making his operatic debut in Boccanegra and does so magnificently. I can’t help but wish that he and Huehn (who sang the Herald in the 1935 performance) had exchanged roles. The other youngster, Leinsdorf, is perhaps a little rowdy in places, but undoubtedly exciting, and he directs the more lyrical and introspective parts convincingly. As a bon bouche we are given four tracks from broadcast concerts by Melchior from 1935-36, including an “In fernem Land” which is even better than that in the complete performance.



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