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Thread: Wagner recordings that everyone should own

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    Member LeoPiano's Avatar
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    Default Wagner recordings that everyone should own

    I'm just starting my collection of Wagner recordings, and I was curious about what TC's picks are for recordings that everyone should own. I've been browsing a lot of forums on works such as the Ring and Parsifal, and from the large discography that some of you have, I know that you can give good recommendations on recordings to start out.

    For this type of list, please don't recommend historical recordings with sound quality that is very difficult to listen to. So, recordings from the 30s or even the 40s should not be on this list. If the sound quality is fine, live recordings from Bayreuth are welcome!

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    Senior Member Op.123's Avatar
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    When it comes to Wagner it's hard to create a list of most reccomendable recordings while staying away from recordings from 30s and 40s, which despite substandard sound often represent the highest quality performances on disc, the Reiner Tristan for example, with Flagstad and Melchior.

    A few which fit your criteria that I would add would be:

    Tristan und Isolde - Karajan (1952)
    Tristan und Isolde - Furtwangler (1952)
    Lohengrin - Keilberth (1953)
    Parsifal - Knappertsbusch (1951)
    Parsifal - Krauss (1953)

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    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    The Kempe Lohengrin is also very fine.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    You'll get quite a range of opinions, which have been discussed at length in numerous existing threads. If you're serious about starting a Wagner collection, why not invest some time and effort into researching what's already available here?
    Alan

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    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    I've limited my suggestions to four indispensable items, as a starting point for any Wagner collection.

    In no particular order:


    1) Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Wagner's tetralogy sung in a foreign language) Karajan et al - Deutsche Grammophon

    2) The Ring Of The Nibelungen (sung in English) Reginald Goodall et al - Chandos

    3) Parsifal Karajan et al - Deutsche Grammophon.

    4) Tristan Und Isolde Furtwangler 1952 - remastered by Pristine Classical (expensive but compulsory)

    And treat yourself to Klemperer's 2 CD set of orchestral excerpts on EMI/Warner, to snack on between long-listens.
    Last edited by HenryPenfold; Jun-27-2021 at 20:39. Reason: I can't count

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    Member LeoPiano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    You'll get quite a range of opinions, which have been discussed at length in numerous existing threads. If you're serious about starting a Wagner collection, why not invest some time and effort into researching what's already available here?
    I can do that too, but I just thought this would be a nice way to find out what the prime recommendations are, while filtering out the recordings that are more so “collector’s items” than recordings that are very necessary for a new listener.

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    The Böhm Ring
    The Solti Tannhäuser
    The Karajan Meistersinger
    The Knappertsbusch Parsifal (Bayreuth 1964)
    The Kempe Lohengrin
    The Furtwängler Tristan
    The Keilberth Holländer (Bayreuth 1955)

    I’d be happy with these but there are a myriad of equally good alternatives.
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

    ‘When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!‘

    ‘It will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end!’

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    I personally like every recording so far mentioned (and quite a few others!). If choosing one recording only for each work, and avoiding anything pre-1950, I think it would be hard to construct a more balanced list than Barbebleu's:

    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    The Böhm Ring
    The Solti Tannhäuser
    The Karajan Meistersinger
    The Knappertsbusch Parsifal (Bayreuth 1964)
    The Kempe Lohengrin
    The Furtwängler Tristan
    The Keilberth Holländer (Bayreuth 1955)
    It might also be worth glancing through Ralph Moore's recommendations on Musicweb International. Setting aside recordings in poor sound, his ultimate suggestions are:

    Holländer: *Keilberth 1955 (live mono)
    Tannhäuser: *Solti 1970 (studio stereo)
    Lohengrin: *Kempe 1962–1963 (studio stereo) or Kubelik 1970 (studio stereo)
    Ring: Solti 1958–1967 (studio stereo)
    Tristan: *Furtwängler 1952 (studio mono), Böhm 1966 (studio live), or Goodall 1980–1981 (studio stereo)
    Meistersinger: Kubelik 1967 (studio stereo)
    Parsifal: Kubelik 1980 (studio stereo)

    [You’ll find Tannhäuser and Lohengrin in his PDF of “Untouchable and Most Recommendable Opera Recordings.” Each of the others has a PDF of its own.]

    But the real points of interest in his material are not his final conclusions but (a) his discussions along the route and (b) the clear, logical way in which the information for each recording is presented.

    I've asterisked * recordings selected by both Barbebleu and Mr. Moore. I personally wouldn't argue with any of those, though I agree that, in every case, it would be easy to think of other options just about equally good!

    Regarding the Ring and Parsifal, if pressed to choose, I would slightly favor Barbebleu's choices.

    Like countless others, I grew up on the Solti Ring, and when Philips started to issue the Böhm, I thought they were crazy: the record-buying market couldn't possibly support TWO complete Ring cycles!!! But for a first purchase nowadays, the Böhm has the slight but distinct advantages that it's faster & livelier and more consistently cast (i.e., just about every role is sung by the same performer throughout). Birgit Nilsson herself, the lynch pin of both cycles, decidedly preferred the Böhm, and I don't think I'd feel qualified to argue with her judgment (certainly not in her presence!). Indeed most of the performers who appeared in both cycles will be found, on direct comparison, to be slightly more expressive live with Böhm.

    Regarding Parsifal, I think almost anyone (probably even Mr. Moore) would agree that the Knappertsbusch 1964 set has a stronger cast of singers in nearly all the principal roles than the Kubelik. Moore thinks Kubelik's conducting is superior, but I believe that's very much a minority judgment. Knappertsbusch was more closely associated with this opera than any other conductor in history (13 complete Parsifals conducted by him have been preserved, plus many large or small excerpts), and there's a general feeling that there's something uniquely "special" about his treatment of it... so, if choosing only one Parsifal, I think it logically ought to be one of his, especially considering the excellence of the cast.

    Meistersinger seems to me the most difficult question.

    I'm not quite sure whether Barbebleu is recommending the 1952 or the 1970 Karajan. Both have about equal numbers of admirers, yet some listeners wouldn't be quite happy with the cast of either, especially in the principal role (Edelmann in 1952, Adam in 1970). Kubelik, suggested by Moore, probably has a more balanced cast, but may be almost impossible to buy cheaply (especially in a good transfer--the Myto transfer is the worst available of this recording). Other possibilities here might be Knappertsbusch (several options, all defensible) or Böhm 1968 (Adam again, but fresher-voiced and livelier than his studio performance for Karajan in 1970).

    One potential problem is that most of the above sets are no longer issued with libretto & English translation. However, with a tiny bit of ingenuity, good texts & translations of all the Wagner operas will be found freely downloadable on the internet.
    Last edited by gvn; Jun-28-2021 at 08:19.

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    Mea culpa. It was actually the ‘70 Karajan but I would be equally happy with the ‘52.
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

    ‘When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!‘

    ‘It will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end!’

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    With a plethora of live recordings from 1950s and 60s Bayreuth and many studio recordings which have stood the test of time, there are numerous recommendable recordings of most of the operas. Others have spent more time and money than I keeping up with the releases, and most of the recommendations made so far seem good to me, so I'll list my old favorites and make a few comments about the virtues I find in them. Because of your concern for sound quality - a concern completely justifiable for someone just getting to know this master of the orchestra - I will recommend only recordings in good, clear, mainly stereo sound.

    Der Fliegende Hollander - Oddly, I don't have a favorite version of this, and the best performances are mostly mono recordings from '50s Bayreuth. Of those, the '55 Keilberth has already been mentioned, and it's as good a choice as any, with OK sound. The Knapperstbusch and Sawallisch performances, also from '50s Bayreuth, are about equally fine. In the '60s we had an interestingly cast recording on EMI under Konwitschny which makes a strong effect despite a somewhat weak Senta. Do avoid the stereo Karajan.

    Tannhauser - Go for the Paris version with the bacchanale and the thoroughly revised and enriched music for Venus. You can catch up with the Dresden original version later. The Solti recording (Decca) has great sound and holds up well as a performance, but the stereo Sinopoli (DG) is a good alternative.

    Lohengrin - The strongly cast and conducted Kempe (EMI) has not been bettered. Just get it. Later you'll find some good live performances, including the Keilberth from 50s Bayreuth.

    Der Ring des Nibelungen - You'll get plenty of arguments about this, but for the sonic brilliance which the Ring cries out for and a cast which was was top-tier for its day the Solti (Decca) remains essential. The weak link in Solti's Ring is the Walkure, and when I bought the cycle on LP I went for Leinsdorf on RCA. Karajan's Ring is an interesting alternative, preferred by some who don't care for Solti, but his casting is less consistent. For a good-sounding live recording the Bohm/Bayreuth, in good 1960s stereo, is the best bet. Explore older Bayreuth recordings under Krauss and Keilberth later.

    Tristan und Isolde - The 1952 Furtwangler (EMI) is essential for an understanding of this opera. Furtwangler's unfolding of the score is grand, tragic, romantic, and taken as a whole unequaled. The mono sound is respectable. For a different viewpoint, a reading of great energy and intensity, get the superbly cast Bohm from 1966 Bayreuth in very good stereo. I would rate the stereo Karajan as not quite equal to these except for the powerful Tristan of Vickers, who should be heard. Tristan can take many different interpretations, and there are a number of fine older recordings to explore.

    Die Meistersinger - I'm very fond of the 1950s mono Kempe, a lovely, affectionate performance with no major weaknesses, but there are some good stereo versions. I like the Sawallisch (although the Sachs is a little weak), and the Kubelik comes highly recommended.

    Parsifal - The 1962 Knappertsbusch performance from Bayreuth (Philips), in clear stereo sound that captures well the Bayreuth acoustics, is a beautiful, dedicated performance and is strongly cast across the board. It's a classic and I recommend it highly. There are now many Parsifals from Bayreuth, and people have various preferences, but all the other Knappertsbusch performances and all others from the '50s are in mono. Of studio versions, the Kubelik (DG) may be the best, but the Solti (Decca), often underrated IMO, is well-sung and sonically splendid. Karajan's (EMI) has many fans, but the cast is uneven and on the whole not competitive with those mentioned.

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    Moderator Art Rock's Avatar
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    For Tristan und Isolde, the 1952 Furtwängler (EMI) has been mentioned a number of times. Perhaps good to know that this has been reissued on the budget label Brilliant Classics (I picked up my copy for 2 euro). I don't know whether other labels' versions have better sound due to different remastering.

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    Sorry, but I never got the Goodall or Kna hype. I'd take Barenboim and Kegel in Parsifal, for example - two superb recordings very different from each other.
    Last edited by joen_cph; Jun-28-2021 at 18:09.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LeoPiano View Post
    I'm just starting my collection of Wagner recordings, and I was curious about what TC's picks are for recordings that everyone should own. I've been browsing a lot of forums on works such as the Ring and Parsifal, and from the large discography that some of you have, I know that you can give good recommendations on recordings to start out.

    For this type of list, please don't recommend historical recordings with sound quality that is very difficult to listen to. So, recordings from the 30s or even the 40s should not be on this list. If the sound quality is fine, live recordings from Bayreuth are welcome!
    The first time I enjoyed listening to Wagner were highlights albums for Siegfried and Gotterdammerung/Tristan und Isolde with Placido Domingo and Deborah Voigt/ Royal Opera House Orchestra/ Antonio Pappano which I would recommend. They've been reissued as this set:

    Domingo Wagner.jpg

    I particularly remember hearing and enjoying the the forging song for the first time:


    Also this duet with Voigt from Gotterdammerung


    I'd think these are some of the best digital recordings of these scenes - excellent sound - and once you are familiar with these highlights, it can make navigating the complete operas that bit easier.

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    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by joen_cph View Post
    Sorry, but I never got the Goodall or Kna hype. I'd take Barenboim and Kegel in Parsifal, for example - two superb recordings very different from each other.
    It's not hype. But of course, it's not for everyone - we're all different.

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    I would say that the Goodall Ring definitely has to be tried before buying. The tempo throughout is glacial (his version is 2 hours and 15 minutes longer than Solti's classic).

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