About this Recording
8.110091-92 - WAGNER, R.: Siegfried (Ring Cycle 3) (Excerpts) (Melchior, Tessmer) (1929-1932)
English 

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Siegfried (Excerpts)

 

Siegfried forms the third part of Wagner’s “stage-festival plays in three days with a preliminary evening”, Der Ring des Nibelungen. The composer had begun this cycle in 1848, but broke off composition in 1857 between Acts 2 and 3 of Siegfried, resuming in 1869.  The première took place in the Festspielhaus, Bayreuth on 16th August 1876 under Hans Richter.

 

At the start of this part of the trilogy, Sieglinde has died giving birth to her son, Siegfried. The child has been raised by the dwarf Mime, brother of Alberich. Mime is visited by Wotan, disguised as the Wanderer, who tells him of a sword (called Nothung) that will be forged by a young hero. In the forest nearby the dragon Fafner (formerly a giant) lives, guarding the Ring and the treasure. Mime endeavours to mend the broken sword so that the young Siegfried can kill the dragon and thus allow him to take the treasure for himself. The young man questions Mime about his parentage and then welds the various pieces of the broken sword into a whole. Fafner is then killed and in doing so, Siegfried burns his finger on the dragon’s blood.  Siegfried hears the song of the woodbird who explains the story of the Ring and that of Brünnhilde, asleep on a rock surrounded by fire. In addition the young warrior learns of Mime’s treachery and promptly kills him before setting off to find Brünnhilde. The god Wotan, having previously told Erda that he longs only for the end to all his problems, attempts to bar the youngster’s progress but his spear is shattered by Siegfried’s sword. Passing through the flames the young man awakens Brünnhilde and claims her as his bride. The concluding music here is a joyous and passionate love duet.

 

The legendary HMV impresario Fred Gaisberg (1873-1951) realised, following the emergence of electrical recording in 1925, that Wagner sung in German was an important requirement that needed to be fulfilled. During the 1920s and 1930s the finest Wagnerian singers of the time recorded large ‘chunks’ from Wagner opera. (It was not until the days of tape recording during the 1950s that complete performances of Wagner operas were preserved for posterity.) It was astonishing, however, just how much was achieved with singers of the calibre of Frida Leider, Florence Austral, Florence Easton, Maria Olszewska, Lauritz Melchior, Friedrich Schorr and many others. What we have here is a fairly representative selection of the ‘plum’ parts of  Siegfried,  made during the years 1928 and 1932.

 

The Danish-born Lauritz Melchoir (1890-1973) was originally a baritone, making his official début in Copenhagen in 1912. Six years later he essayed the tenor title rôle of Tannhäuser before a further period of study resulted in his noteworthy Covent Garden début in 1924 as Siegmund in Die Walküre. For the ensuing quarter century he was the foremost Wagner tenor of his time, with a career that extended throughout Europe and North America. He also sang heroic Italian and some French rôles. His untiring vocal stamina allied to a robust physique was ideally suited to heroic Wagnerian roles. After leaving the stage in 1950 he appeared in a number of Hollywood films. At the age of seventy he sang Siegmund in a broadcast concert performance of the first act of Die Walküre in Copenhagen.

 

Originally trained to be an actor, a profession he followed in Hamburg during the years 1889-97, Berlin-born tenor Albert Reiss (1870-1940) later studied singing in his home city before making his début as Ivanov in Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann in 1897. This was followed by engagements in Poznán, Wiesbaden and Munich during the years 1898 and 1901. His American career comprised his engagements at the Metropolitan Opera in New York between 1901 and 1920. He also appeared at Covent Garden during the 1902-05 and 1924-28 seasons. In 1910 he created the rôles of Nick in Puccini’s La fanciulla del west and the Broom maker in Humperdinck’s Königskinder, both first given in New York. Returning to Germany, Reiss worked first at the Berlin Volksoper (1919-25) and later the Berlin Civic Opera until his retirement. He was a much admired David and Mime.

 

The German tenor Heinrich Tessmer worked primarily in Germany, particularly Dresden, during the 1920s through to the mid-1950s. He also appeared at Covent Garden singing David in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 1932 and Vasek in The Bartered Bride in 1939, both under Beecham. He was a member of the Dresden Staatsoper during their Covent Garden visit in 1936.

 

The Hungarian-born baritone Freidrich Schorr (1888-1953) studied in Vienna. His first appearance, as the Steersman in Tristan und Isolde, occurred while visiting Chicago in the spring of 1912, with his formal début later that year as Wotan in Graz, where he would remain the next four seasons. He then moved to Prague (1916-18), Cologne (1918-23) and Berlin (1923-32). His début at the Metropolitan in New York took place in February 1924 and over the next twenty years he would sing over 350 performances of some eighteen rôles, most often  the principal Wagnerian rôles. He also sang at Covent Garden, Bayreuth (1925-31) and San Francisco (1931-38). Schorr’s noble and impressive voice, allied to excellence diction and fine stage presence, made him the most significant Wagnerian baritone singer of his time.

 

First studying law and completing his degree in his native Vienna, the bass Emil Schipper (1882-1957) studied singing in Milan and made his début as Telramund in Lohengrin at the German Theatre, Prague. The year 1911 was spent in Linz, followed by periods at the Vienna Volksoper (1912-16) and Munich (1916-22). His European career embraced Madrid, Barcelona, Brussels, Paris, Buadpest and Covent Garden (1924-30, singing Wotan). He also sang in Chicago and Boston (1922-23 and 1928) before singing Agamemnon in Gluck’s Alceste (1930) at Salzburg, also appearing as Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde under Toscanini in 1935 before retiring in 1938. For a period he was married to the contralto Maria Olszewska. Schipper’s heroic voice was much admired in Wagner.

 

First studying languages at Dresden University, the baritone Rudolf Bockelmann (1892-1958) later moved to singing. His début was in in 1920 as the Herald in Lohengrin, and this was followed by periods in Leipzig (1921-26), Hamburg (1926-32; 1946-51) and Berlin (1932-44). He also enjoyed a prolific association at the Bayreuth Festival where he sang regularly between 1928 and 1942 where he was a much admired baritone. Concurrently Bockelmann also appeared at Covent Garden (1929-30; 1934-38) and Chicago (1930-32), in addition to engagements in Amsterdam, Brussels, Milan, Munich, Rome and Vienna. After retirement from the stage he taught in Hamburg (1946-55) and Leipzig (1955-58). Regarded as the only real rival to Schorr in Wagnerian rôles, he was married to the soprano Maria Weigand.

 

The bass Eduard Habich (1880-1960) studied at the Raff Conservatorium in Frankfurt-am-Main, making his début in 1904 in Coblenz. This was followed by years in Posen, Halle, Düsseldorf before a 25 years period at the Berlin Imperial and State Operas (1910-35). His first Bayreuth rôle was Klingsor in Parsifal in 1912, followed by Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde during 1927. His Covent Garden début was in 1923 and five years later he appeared in Amsterdam. His American appearances were confined to the Metropolitan Opera in New York between 1935 and 1937. Habich was a much admired exponent of Beckmesser. After retiring he taught in Berlin.

 

The contralto Maria Olszewska (1892-1969) was born Maria Berchtenbreiter. Studying at Munich University she made her operatic début in Krefeld in 1915 as the Page in Tannhäuser before a period in Hamburg between 1917-20, where she created the part of Brigette in Korngold’s Die tote Stadt. Her first Viennese engagement at the State Opera occurred in 1921, followed by two seasons in Munich. Her European career encompassed Brussels, Covent Garden and Milan, whilst she also sang in both Central and South America and Chicago (1928-32). Her New York début was as Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde in 1933. After retirement she taught at the Vienna Conservatory from 1947. As a performer she possessed an outstanding voice and a positive dramatic presence.

 

Daughter of the German-born, British-naturalised conductor Hermann Grunebaum (1872-1954), soprano Nora Gruhn (1905-2001) studied in Munich before making her début at Kaiserslautern in 1928, followed by appearances in Cologne (1930-31). She sang at Covent Garden between 1929-32, where her rôles included Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Adele in Die Fledermaus, in addition to appearing at Sadler’s Wells Opera between 1932 and 1936 and 1945-48. A much admired Hansel, a rôle she is thought to have sung on more than four hundred occasions, Gruhn also sang Lady Felicia in the first English performances of Wolf-Ferrari’s I quattro rusteghi in 1946.

 

The English-born soprano Florence Easton (1882-1955) spent her childhood in Canada before moving to London to study at the Royal College of Music and later Paris. Her début was with the Moody-Manners Opera Company in London in 1903 as Shepherd Boy in Tannhäuser, her American one with the Henry Savage Opera Company. She sang regularly at the Berlin Imperial Opera (1907-13), Hamburg (1914-16), Chicago (1915-16) and the Metropolitan, New York (1917-29). It was at this last that she created the part of Lauretta in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi in 1918. In 1927 she appeared in the title rôle of Turandot at Covent Garden and Brünnhilde and Isolde in 1932, in addition to Tosca with Sadler’s Wells Opera. Easton returned to New York in 1936 to sing Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. A versatile artist with a repertoire of over eighty rôles, she was able to learn quickly and often replaced ailing colleagues. She retired to Montreal before moving to New York where she died.

 

The two conductors, Albert Coates and Robert Heger, were both highly experienced interpreters of Wagner’s music and contributed extensively to the Wagnerian discography during the years 1920-40.

 

Malcolm Walker

 

 

Synopsis

 

CD 1

 

Act I

 

Prelude

 

[1]          The Prelude to Act I reflects the thoughts of the Nibelung Mime.

 

Scene 1

 

[2]          Mime sits by the forge in his cave in the forest, hammering out a sword and complaining about his endless labour. He can make swords strong enough for giants, but Siegfried breaks them in two like children’s toys, but if he could join together the blade of the great sword Nothung, Siegfried would be able to kill the dragon giant Fafner, and then Mime could gain possession of the ring. He continues his work and his complaint.

 

[3]          Siegfried comes cheerfully in from the forest. He is leading a bear, jokingly provoking it to attack Mime, who cowers in fear. Siegfried sets the bear free and it trots back to the wood. He had sought a friend in the forest, sounded his horn and been joined by the bear. Mime has forged a sword for Siegfried, who takes the offered weapon, looking at it critically. He strikes the anvil with it and the sword breaks in pieces. He abuses Mime for his bad craftsmanship.

 

[4]          Mime reproaches Siegfried for his ingratitude. Mime has looked after him, as he explains in his so-called nursing song, but is only hated in return.

 

Siegfried admits that he has learned much from Mime, but never to like him. In fact he cannot stand him, always recognising the evil in him and preferring animals to him. Mime tries to come near him, saying that in his heart he really loves him, as a young bird loves its mother. Siegfried, though, has seen animals in the forest and asks where the woman is who is his mother. Mime claims to be both mother and father to him, but he has seen his reflection and knows he in no way resembles Mime. He asks where his true parents are. Mime declares that he is no relation to Siegfried, but found Sieglinde in the forest, about to give birth to a child, and sheltered her out of pity. She died and Mime looked after the child. In answer to Siegfried’s question, he tells him that his mother said that the child must be called Siegfried and that her name was Sieglinde.

 

[5]          Siegfried doubts the truth of Mime’s story, but is told that the sword was left him by his mother. He orders Mime to repair immediately the broken sword, threatening him. With it he will go forth into the world, happy and free, and never come back. He dashes out into the forest, leaving Mime calling after him, before returning to the anvil and musing on the impossibility of mending the sword and letting Siegfried deal with Fafner.

 

Scene 2

 

[6]          Wotan, in the guise of the Wanderer, comes out of the forest. He wears a long blue cloak, carrying a spear as a staff. On his head is a wide-brimmed hat. He seeks Mime’s hospitality, which the latter is unwilling to give. The Wanderer offers to stake his life on being able to answer Mime’s questions, if he fail; if he succeed, he claims hospitality.

 

[7]          Mime, anxious to defeat the unwanted guest, asks what race lives in the depths of the earth, and the Wanderer tells him the Nibelungs, who were forced by a magic ring to provide a rich treasure for Alberich, who sought to rule the world with it. To the second question as to the race living on the surface of the earth, the Wanderer answers that it is the giants; the giants Fasolt and Fafner took the Nibelungs’ treasure and Fafner then killed his brother, taking the form of a dragon and guarding the treasure. Mime asks a third question as to what race lives above. The Wanderer tells him that gods live in the cloud-covered heights and their ruler is Wotan, in Valhalla. He has a spear and on it are the decrees that make the Nibelungs and giants subject for ever to the gods. Mime’s questions were nothing, but now Mime too must wager his head against three questions from the Wanderer. He asks first the name of the family that has been the object of Wotan’s anger, although he loves them. Mime answers correctly that it is the family of the Volsungs, Siegmund and Sieglinde, and their offspring Siegfried. The Wanderer asks what sword Siegfried must use to kill Fafner, and is told that it is Nothung. Mime rashly continues with the story of Nothung, broken by the spear of Wotan, but to be mended by a clever smith and used by a childish hero for Mime’s own profit.

 

The Wanderer’s third question as to who will join together again the broken sword Mime cannot answer; his life now must be at the mercy of the one who will forge Nothung, the one who is fearless. The Wanderer leaves, smiling, while Mime sinks down on his stool in fear.

 

Scene 3

 

Shuddering, Mime looks towards the forest, now lit by an accursed light that seems to approach, Fafner coming for him. With a cry, he collapses behind the anvil. Siegfried comes cheerfully in, looking around for Mime, and when he sees him asks why he is hiding behind the anvil. He asks about the sword. Mime recalls that only the one who has never known fear will forge the sword and resolves to teach Siegfried this lesson, thereby saving his own life. Siegfried asks what fear is. Mime tells him that his mother has said that he must learn what fear is, before going out into the world.

 

[8]          Mime talks of the terrors of the darkness in the forest, strange noises and mysterious lights that make him tremble. Siegfried knows nothing of this, but Mime will take him to Fafner, who will teach him. Mime admits that he cannot mend the sword and Siegfried takes the broken pieces, files them down and heats the forge until it is glowing hot. Mime now realises that it is Siegfried who will kill him, but resolves, nevertheless, to use Siegfried to kill the dragon Fafner and then to try to take the ring from him.

 

[9]          Siegfried, who now knows the name of the sword, Nothung, sings to it, as he forges it anew, describing what he is doing, how he felled a tree in the forest, which now blazes in the forge. Mime makes ready a drugged drink to give Siegfried after the combat with Fafner, while the hero happily continues his work.

 

[10]       Enjoying his task, Siegfried bids his hammer strike and continues his song, while Mime is busy with his own plans. He takes the sword, now made whole again, and strikes the anvil, breaking it in two, now holding Nothung on high.

 

 

Act II

 

The Prelude suggests the depth of the dark forest, by Fafner’s cave, and contains, near the end, the motif of Alberich’s hatred.

 

Scene 1

 

[11]       Outside Fafner’s cave Alberich is watching, in the forest and the night. He is aware of a light, although it is still night. In a ray of moonlight he sees the Wanderer, whom Alberich recognises, angrily bidding him away. Wotan tells him that he comes only to watch, since he cannot, as Alberich reminds him, break his agreement with Fafner, who had been given the ring and other treasure in return for the release of the goddess Freia. Alberich threatens Wotan with his plans to seize power through the ring and storm Valhalla, to become ruler of the world. Wotan calmly answers that Alberich’s ambitions do not worry him. He tells Alberich of Siegfried, who knows nothing of the ring, and of Mime’s cunning plot.

 

[12]       Mime is the only one seeking the ring, while Siegfried is his own master, to do or die: the hero is approaching, if Fafner is warned, he might give up the ring. He calls out to Fafner, waking the dragon in his cave. Fafner, however, will not listen to the warning, since fate will dictate the outcome. Wotan goes and Alberich, swearing revenge, hides among the rocks.

 

Scene 2

 

It is dawn, as Mime and Siegfried approach Fafner’s cave, where Mime tells Siegfried he is to learn the necessary lesson of fear and goes on to describe the terrible dragon. Siegfried has no apprehension and suggests how the dragon should be killed. Mime asks him if he is yet afraid, but Siegfried thinks nothing of all this lesson, rejecting Mime’s professed love for him. Mime tells him that in the daylight the dragon will come out to drink at the spring, and Siegfried tells Mime to stay by the spring, in that case: if he does not, he can be gone. Mime hopes the two, Fafner and Siegfried, may kill each other, as he goes away into the forest.

 

[13]       Siegfried, stretched out under a linden-tree, is glad that Mime is not his father: Mime’s son would look like him, but he wonders what his own father and mother were like, and if all human mothers die if they bear a son. He longs to see his own mother.

 

[14]       In the stillness of the morning he hears the singing of the birds and asks again about his mother. Mime had told him that there was a way of understanding the song of birds. He tries out the way he has been told, by making a reed-pipe and imitating the birds, but the sound from the hastily fashioned reed is not good. He hears a bird sing again and throws the reed away, taking his horn, which he plays.

 

[15]       The horn-call rouses Fafner, who emerges slowly from his cave, then stops, looking at Siegfried. The latter, unperturbed, asks Fafner to teach him how to fear and then taunts him, and, seizing his sword, attacks him. After a brief combat, Siegfried pierces Fafner to the heart. As the dragon dies, he tells of the accursed gold and how he killed his brother Fasolt and now he, the last of the giants, is dying. He warns Siegfried of the danger from the one who brought him there. Siegfried pulls his sword out of the mortal wound and feels the giant’s blood on his hand burning like fire. Siegfried puts his hand to his lips, to soothe the pain, and now understands the song of the bird, which tells him to seek in Fafner’s cave the Nibelung’s gold, the Tarncap, and the ring, which will give him power over the whole world. Siegfried thanks the bird for his counsel, as he enters the cave.

 

Scene 3

 

[16]       Mime returns, looking around to make sure that Fafner is dead. At the same time Alberich appears, preventing Mime entering the cave. The two quarrel as to who shall have the treasure, one claiming to have been the creator of the ring, and the other of the Tarncap. Mime suggests they should share the treasure, but Alberich angrily rejects the proposal. They are surprised to see Siegfried emerging from the cave, with the Tarncap and the ring, which Mime thinks he can soon take from him.

 

Siegfried does not understand what use these things are to him, but resolves to keep them as symbols of his fight against Fafner, although he still has not learned how to fear. He puts the Tarncap in his girdle and the ring on his finger. The voice of the bird is heard again, warning him not to trust Mime, whose thoughts he will be able to read through the dragon’s blood. He stands watching Mime approach and Mime welcomes him, asking him if he has learned fear, but Siegfried tells him he found no teacher. In spite of his seemingly friendly words, his thoughts, audible to Siegfried, express his hatred for the boy, to Mime’s consternation. Mime offers Siegfried the draught he has prepared, adding, in his thoughts, his intention of taking Siegfried’s sword and the treasure. Mime claims that Siegfried has not understood him and urges him further to drink, adding that the drink will soon render him insensible, so that Mime can chop his head off and gain possession of the ring. He is again astonished that Siegfried has heard his murderous thoughts. Siegfried strikes him dead with his sword, while Alberich, from his hiding-place, laughs.

 

CD 2

 

[1]          Siegfried throws Mime’s body into the cave, and drags the dragon’s to cover the mouth of the cave, both to guard the treasure. Tired, he stretches out under the linden-tree. He tells the bird of his loneliness, with no brother or sister, no father and no mother, his only companion an ugly dwarf. From the bird he seeks counsel and a companion.

 

[2]          He bids the bird sing and is told of a wonderful woman, who sleeps on a high rock, surrounded by flames; if Siegfried wakens her, Brünnhilde will be his. He asks the bird what this feeling is in his heart and the bird tells him that it is love. He asks if he will be able to pass through the fire, and the bird tells him that one who does not know fear can accomplish this. He asks how he shall find the rock, and the bird flies off, leading the way, Siegfried following.

 

 

Act III

 

[3]          The Prelude recalls the wandering of Wotan, bound by the agreements he has made and fated to wander.

 

Scene 1

 

[4]          There is thunder and lightning, as Wotan approaches a cave at the foot of the rock where Brünnhilde lies. He calls on Erda, goddess of fate, to awake and rise from the depths.

 

[5]          Erda slowly rises from the depths of the earth, waking. Wotan tells her he has come to seek her advice; he has wandered long and far, but she knows more than he does. She tells him to seek counsel from her daughters, the Norns, spinners of fate, but it is Erda’s wisdom that Wotan seeks. She tells him to seek out Brünnhilde, the Valkyrie, that she bore for him. He inveighs against the Valkyrie, sleeping and only to be wakened by a mortal, and Erda is angry at Brünnhilde’s fate. He seeks to know about the end of the gods, and Erda tells him that he is no longer a god.

 

[6]          Wotan wills her wisdom at an end; Siegfried must be his heir, possessor of the ring and safe from Alberich, since he does not know fear. Siegfried will wake Brünnhilde and she, with her knowledge, will save the world. He orders Erda back, now to eternal sleep, and she disappears again into the depths of the earth.

 

Scene 2

 

Dawn is breaking, and the Wanderer sees Siegfried approaching. Siegfried, following the forest-bird, enters. The bird suddenly stops in its course, fluttering about, as it sees the Wanderer, before quickly disappearing into the background. Siegfried is about to continue his journey, when the Wanderer asks him where he is going. Siegfried tells him he is looking for a rock surrounded by fire, and on the rock a woman, whom he is to wake. In answer to the Wanderer’s further questions, he tells him that a bird had brought him there and that he could understand the bird because of the blood of the dragon that he had killed. He explains how Mime had brought him to the dragon’s cave and the sword he used that he had forged himself. He asks the old man to tell him the way to the rock he seeks, but the Wanderer urges patience.

 

[7]          Siegfried threatens him, anxious to continue his quest, which this strange man, with his broad-brimmed hat and one eye, is obstructing.

 

[8]          The Wanderer blocks Siegfried’s path, but when he uses his spear against the sword, Nothung, it is now the spear that breaks, and with it Wotan’s power. The Wanderer can no longer stand in Siegfried’s way, and suddenly disappears. The light of the flames becomes more evident and Siegfried goes on, blowing his horn, the fire soon engulfing the whole scene. Siegfried climbs the rocky height.

 

Scene 3

 

[9]          The flames grow less, as Siegfried reaches the summit, where Brünnhilde sleeps, with her horse Grane by her. He looks at the scene in wonder, seeing the horse and Brünnhilde’s shining armour, raising her shield to reveal her, as she sleeps.

 

[10]       He is in wonder at her beauty and with his sword he cuts her free from the shackles that bind her. He trembles, thinking that now perhaps he has learned fear, and calls on his mother for help. He seeks to wake Brünnhilde, kissing her as she sleeps. She opens her eyes.

 

[11]       Brünnhilde greets the sun, after her long sleep, and seeks to know who it is that has wakened her. Spellbound, Siegfried tells her how he came through the fire and reveals to her his name. She thanks the gods, greeting the world and the earth, now her long sleep is over. Siegfried joins her in an expression of their joy. She tells him how she has loved him. Siegfried thinks he sees his mother, but Brünnhilde tells him his mother has not returned for him.

 

[12]       She promises him her knowledge, for it was for him that she struggled and strove, but Siegfried cannot yet understand. She looks at her horse and her weapons that no longer protect her. Burning with love, Siegfried tries to embrace her, but she leaps away from him, a maiden untouched by gods.

 

[13]       Reminded of her love for him, she understands that she will lose her wisdom.

 

[14]       Brünnhilde tries to keep Siegfried away from her, but in the end gives way to his love and her own feelings.

 

[15]       Now they both feel the rapture of love, as she bids farewell to Valhalla and willingly sees the twilight of the gods, herself united with Siegfried for ever.

 

Keith Anderson

 

 

Producer’s Note

 

In the early days of electrical recording, it would have been logistically and fiscally unthinkable to produce complete Wagner operas on disc. Nevertheless, extended excerpts were feasible and, between 1925 and 1932, the Gramophone Company gradually assembled a substantial catalogue of Wagner operatic highlights. The excerpts from Siegfried, contained in this two disc set, were made over a period of four years in two cities and three venues. Three conductors contributed to the project together with an impressive roster of prominent Wagnerian singers including not one but three Wotans and two Mimes. At the time, these changes in cast and conductor were likely considered inconsequential since these excerpts were sold not as one set but as four separate albums. Today, it seems only natural to combine these recordings into one set. This, however, has presented quite a challenge since each individual recording possesses its own particular sonority and ambiance. The 1930 and 1931 sides, conducted by Robert Heger, are extremely well recorded with plenty of resonant bass from the orchestra. The singers are, however, too close to the microphone which at times produces a harshness that is almost impossible to tame without degrading the sound of the orchestra. There is also some distortion that is especially noticeable in the inner grooves of each side which I have attempted to minimize as much as possible. The 1929 sides, with Albert Coates conducting, are also well recorded and contain less distortion. They possess a more natural balance between singers and orchestra but tend to yield a higher level of surface noise. The four sides made in Vienna in 1928 are the most problematic by far. They are afflicted with considerable distortion and are slightly unstable in pitch. Additionally, the second and third sides contain an extremely prominent 50hz hum which, thanks to computerized notch filtering, I was able to effectively attenuate. The 1932 recording of the final scene with Melchior and Easton contains perhaps the finest sound of all. The orchestra is well balanced and there is plenty of space surrounding those two magnificent voices. All of these recordings have been remastered from pristine mid-1930s U. S. Victor pressings which are exemplary for their quiet surfaces. A variety of styli have been used to achieve the cleanest sonic reproduction with the least distortion. A judicious amount of CEDAR de-clicking and de-crackling algorithms has been applied but not so much as to compromise the sound of the original recording.

 

Ward Marston

 

Ward Marston

 

In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work ‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.

 

Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.

 

In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.


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