Der Ring des Nibelungen
Live recording in mono from
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Conductor: Rudolf Kempe
Chor und Orchester der
Bayreuther Festspiele
Das Rheingold
July 26, 1960
Wotan Hermann Uhde
Donner Thomas Stewart
Froh Georg Paskuda
Loge Gerhard Stolze
Alberich Otokar Kraus
Mime Herold Kraus
Fasolt Arnold van Mill
Fafner Peter Roth-Ehrang
Fricka Hertha Töpper
Freia Ingrid Bjoner
Erda Marga Höffgen
Woglinde Dorothea Siebert
Wellgunde Claudia Hellmann
Floßhilde Sona Cervená
July 27, 1960
Siegmund Wolfgang Windgassen
Sieglinde Aase Nordmo-Løvberg
Wotan Jerome Hines
Brünnhilde Astrid Varnay
Hunding Gottlob Frick
Fricka Hertha Töpper
Gerhilde Gertraud Hopf
Ortlinde Frances Martin
Waltraute Claudia Hellmann
Schwertleite Ruth Siewert
Helmwige Ingrid Bjoner
Siegrune Grace Hoffman
Grimgerde Margit Kobeck-Peters
Roßweiße Dorothea von Stein
July 28, 1960
Siegfried Hans Hopf
Mime Herold Kraus
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson
Wanderer Hermann Uhde
Alberich Otokar Kraus
Fafner Peter Roth-Ehrang
Erda Marga Höffgen
Waldvogel Dorothea Siebert
July 30, 1960
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson
Siegfried Hans Hopf
Hagen Gottlob Frick
Alberich Otokar Kraus
Gunther Thomas Stewart
Gutrune Ingrid Bjoner
Waltraute Grace Hoffman
Woglinde Dorothea Siebert
Wellgunde Claudia Hellmann
Floßhilde Sona Cervená
1. Norne Ruth Siewert
2. Norne Grace Hoffman
3. Norne Aase Nordmo-Løvberg
Golden Melodram, GM 1.0027 14 CDs ADD
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Review by Ralph John Steinberg

I initally bought this recording out of nostalgia, having heard this as my first complete Ring as a broadcast in January of 1961. But having heard it again in its entirety, I have to recommend it as a highly desirable version of the cycle.

First of all, there is the subtle yet vital conducting of Kempe. He knows better than most other Ring conductors how to balance blazing passion with mystery; next to him, Solti sounds vulgar and blatant. Anyone who is familiar with Kempe's Meistersinger will know what I mean. Kempe has the gift of making this music sing and surge heroically, without ever sounding overblown or pompous, something that Solti seems not to be able to avoid. Part of this is the recessed Bayreuth orchestra sound, which allows a perfect balance between singer and orchestra. This set offers a superb demonstration of the unique Bayreuth acoustic.

This performance was the first of the Wolfgang Wagner productions, for which he engaged an entirely new cast. Because of scheduling problems, Jerome Hines, Wolfgang's first choice for Wotan, could only do the "Walküre," so that Hermann Uhde had to bail him out for "Rheingold" and "Siegfried". Likewise, Astrid Varnay did the "Walküre" Brünnhilde, with Birgit Nilsson making her Bayreuth debut in the role in "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung".

Personally, I am not troubled by this casting inconsistency. Varnay projects a fiery, youthful Brünnhilde, if anything even more gleaming in tone than in the superb 1956 Knappertsbusch set; at times, she resembles Nilsson! Her "Hojotoho" is truly thrilling; what we would give to have her back! Nilsson is at her peak, especially in "Götterdämmerung", singing with absolute security and showing a degree of involvement not always seen in later performances; most especially, she projects a vulnerabilty that is touching and totally convincing!

Uhde's Wotan is strong and incisive, perhaps smaller in voice than Hotter, but steady of tone and more scheming in character than usual; this Wotan is clearly no saint! Hine's "Walküre" Wotan begins rather coursely in manner, although gloriously sung; later on, his word- shading comes into evidence, and he invests the great Act 2 monologue with hushed intensity, building to a frightening climax at "So nimm meinen Segen, Nieblungen Sohn!" And his Farewell is heartbreaking, as moving as any other in my experience.

I don't understand the lack of enthusiasm that surrounds the name of Hans Hopf. Here, he is simply thrilling as Siegfried, a true Heldentenor. Sure, he tends to bluster, but those tender moments, such as "So starb meine Mutter an mir?" come across with all the greater impact here.

Windgassen as Siegmund, is, unfortunately, the only negative aspect to this set, for he tires badly in the Act 1 (Act 2 goes better, and he ends up his usual glorious self). Aase Nordmo-Løvberg is an ardent Sieglinde, although with some strain in the upper reaches of her voice. Gottlob Frick is for me the perfect Hunding, and even more, Hagen. He gives both roles a grim, dour, and yet, dignified quality, something that Greindl couldn't aways do. (It seems strange that Greindl, for all his qualities, was for the most part the preferred Bayreuth "Black Bass").

As Alberich, Otokar Kraus sounds like a cross between Neidlinger and Fischer-Dieskau; his character is more desparate then merely demented. Herold Kraus really sings, rather than shrieks, as Mime, and projects a malevolant, rather than pathetic dwarf out to murder Siegfried (one has to hear his laughter in Act 2 to hear sheer unmitigated evil!!!!). Marga Höffgen is a rich-voiced and mystical Erda, Hertha Töpper a youthful and superbly outraged Fricka. Both giants are superb, especially Roth-Ehrang's Fafner.

The recorded sound is variable, being superb in "Rheingold", "Siegfried" and the First Act of "Walküre", but becoming curiously distant and veiled in the Second and Third Acts. The Prologue to "Götterdämmerung" has a prolonged flutter, which ends by the time the Rhine Journey begins.

Still, this is a treasurable Ring, and I would recommend it to anyone. Not being terribly fond of any of the stereo Rings, this Kempe Ring would be my first choice, along with Knappertsbusch's 1956 Bayreuth set.