, January 2009
Taken from a radio transmission from the Metropolitan in New York on 30 January 1937, This Naxos Historical Met. issue offers an astonishingly vivid view of a classic occasion with a cast unlikely ever to be equaled. Both Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad were at their peak, and the firmness, clarity and absence of strain of their singing offers a lesson to all latter-day exponents of the music. Melchoir is a Heldentenor without a hint of roughness in his tone, freely confident, while the noble Flagstad brings not only a comparable power to the role of Brünnhilde, but an element of tenderness that may surprise some. Kirsten Thorborg makes for luxury casting, virile rather than elderly. Artur Bodansky, the Met’s chief conductor at the time in the German repertory, is a brisk but understanding Wagnerian, and though there are statutory cuts, as was customary at the, it means that each act is contained on a single CD. All the voices are superly caught, but the orchestra is much dimmer, not helped by variable surface-noise, which is yet intrusive only occasionally, mainly in pianissimo passages. The voices are what matter, and they sound glorious, thanks to the excellent transfer of Ward Marston. An astonishing bargain.