Skip to main content
Read page text

Page Text

The Granwplwne, September, 1926

134

of 0 Star of E1'e (H.M.V. D.B.194) is as good as any I know. The chromatic tune and the harmony are certainly Teutonic, but the subordination of the orchestra, the prominence of the melody and the opportunities i t offers for vocal effects, the slightly self-conscious and histrionic atmosphere-all these are qualities that the song shares with many of the best Italian a1·ias. A fine artist like Battistini can be trusted to render this music with complete sympathy. He uses Italian words, to be sure, but Wagner has not indulged here in any subtle wordpainting, and the poetic value of his original lines is not such as to render translation a crime.

I believe that Wagner once wrote in a letter that he wished all his operas to be sung with the broad freedom of the Italian manner (I forget his exact words). This is an enlightening remark which singers would do well to bear in mind, but i t does not imply that Italians are always the best people to interpret his music although some of i t may suit them very well. We have already noticed the tendency of his style to drift away from Italian ideals, to become steadily more symphonic and more complex, and thereby to appeal to a different type of artist and to require more elaborate treatment in the recording room. The Prize Song is as lovely a tune as 0 Star of Eve, but i ts structure is far less obvious, and both singer and recording expert have ' to take into account the elaborate orchestration by which i ts beauty is so signally enhanced; and when the attention of the audience is going to be divided between so many simultaneous melodies i t will clearly be impossible to give to each one of them the same prominence and the same sharp definition that can be rea,ched where only one has to be considered.

Hans Sachs' monologue Mad! jVIad! takes us a step further still. For this extract a fine voice is as necessary as ever, but now i t is only one of many essentials. A good diction is just as important, since a proper appreciation of the music is only possible i f we can understand the words. And for the same reason the language used should be either our own tongue or the original German (which we can follow from the score with the help of a translation). Finally, the singer must be alert to catch everyone of the subtleties with wbich the monologue is crammed. To do this he will have to study the orchestral part as closely as his own; for Wagner has entrusted to the instruments a liberal share of the poetry and the drama, and the vocalist who ignores their contribution to the total effect is certainly unfit to interpret the r6le of Sachs.

Finally we reach the Good Friday Music, and here I confess that I prefer the purely orchestml versions, such as Columbia have given us with the old process of recording (L.1 550 and L.1551) and H.M.V. (D.I031) with the new. In all the vocal records the singer is too prominent; i t is the in-

struments that provide the music, and even t he most talented vocalist has no function beyond giving us, as modestly as he can, the verbal clues to what is going on.

So far I bave only referred to extracts with a single voice part. But I need not labour my point further; i t is obvious that each additional singer will mean a new strand to be woven into the already complex skein. In the Finale to the second act of The Mastersingers we have a chorus divided into many parts and singing different words at a great pace, wbile the orchestra pursues an independent but equally precipitate course of i ts own. It is inconceivable under any circumstances that every word and every note should come out with complete distinctness. Nor is i t desirable; Wagner was trying when he wrote the passage to depict the confused uproar of a street riot, and he has succeeded admirably.

Enougb has now been said to show that the prudent 'Wagnerian will look for very diverse qualities in the various records of his l ibrary. The next thing is to take a glance at the peculiarities of the different companies as far as they a,ffect the question. Having heard a good many of the records issued by the leading firms, I have formed certain general opinions about them. It is not likely that my views will be shared by everyone, but at least they may serve as a basis for discussion.

Polydor ha,ve the largest selection of Wagner excerpts and also in all probability the finest set of singers for this particular music. The records often leave something to be desired in the matter of surface-smoothness and the orchestral reproduction is seldom up to the highest British standards. But the artists represent the authentic German tradition, and can usually be depended on for intelligent and respectful interpretations; sometimes they give us very much more.

The Parlophone company has only recently come to the front, and their catalogue still contains a few records that are hardly worthy of them. But when these have been excluded there remains a list which, though shorter than Polydor, is no less remarkable. The Emmy Bettendorf series alone is enough to justify them for launching out into Wagnerian seas, ' and this magnificent artist is supported by others among whom I may single out Lauritz Melchior, the Danish tenor, who as Siegmund and Siegfried has recently created such a profound impression at Covent Garden.* Parlophone have on the whole been more successful than Polydor in achieving a good balance between singer and orchestra, and their strings have, as we all know, a peculiar sweetness. Their twelve-inch records are inclined to err occasionally on the side

-He has also recorded for Poly dor, by the way.

Skip to main content