Thrillingly conducted by Joseph Keilberth (called by Astrid Varnay, "a conductor with so much love, who was always there for you"), the cycle provides the opportunity to hear complete for the first time on commercial release the definitive performances of Hans Hotter, Astrid Varnay and Paul Kuen, in addition to the much-loved Siegfried of Wolfgang Windgassen, here heard in his prime.
These live Bayreuth performances were taped by a Decca team led by Peter Andry and including the noted engineers Kenneth Wilkinson and Roy Wallace, with Gordon Parry as assistant. Using a new six-channel mixer designed by Wallace, the team made both stereo and mono recordings of each opera. Three microphones were placed in the sunken orchestra pit and three were hanged from a lighting bridge about 20 feet above the stage. "This was brilliant; it worked beautifully," remembers Wallace. The company prepared for an expected release, but John Culshaw, recently returned to Decca, vetoed the project. He disliked "live" recordings and already had plans for a studio Ring with Solti, which began four years later. Decca's recording vividly captures in wonderful stereo sound the unique acoustic and stage/pit balance of the Bayreuth Festival theatre with its sunken orchestra, in addition to preserving the leading singers from a Wagnerian golden age in live performance.
The revelations are the remarkable early stereo sound quality and Keilberth's elemental conducting. This Siegfried has an inexorable sweep that will take your breath away. The singing too is of a kind that you just don't hear today. The classical-record event of the year. Five stars.
"At the time Keilberth never seemed to receive his due his command of every aspect of this vast score is unerring in balance, detail and overall Schwung. No opera house or recording has since rivaled the cast assembled here, not even the Decca set, by which time Hotter, Windgassen and Neidlinger were all some ten years older. In 1955 all three are at the peak of their form. Don't take my word for it: buy the discs and experience Wagner as he was supremely performed in those special days." - Gramophone
"Magnificent is the only word for it. This is teamwork on an exalted scale. Keilberth was the first among equals in Wagner." The Independent
Maria von Ilosvay
Joseph Keilberth, conductor
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Siegfried (Second Day of Stage Festival)