Wagner: Die Walküre - Act I
Lotte Lehmann, soprano (Sieglinde); Lauritz Melchior, tenor (Siegmund); Emanuel List, bass (Hunding); Vienna PhilharmonicOrch/ Bruno Walter, cond.  "Dir tune Lob!" from Tannh”user (Lauritz Melchior; RCA Victor Orch/Edwin McArthur
VIP Records OP 1002 (M) (AAD?) TT: 64:29
Available from VIP Records  (www.vintageip.com/records)

Without question this 1935 EMI recording of Act I of Wagner's Die Walküre is one of the milestones in the history of the gramophone. It documents three superb singers, at or near the absolute peaks of their abilities, in collaboration with one of the world's great orchestras, playing under the inspired direction of a legendary maestro. Although recorded in the studio, this recording features all of the excitement of a live performance. Indeed, few in-performance recordings are as compelling as this one, either for spontaneity or (most certainly) for vocal excellence. Almost without fail, this recording makes its way onto virtually every "desert island" list.

In 1988 EMI produced its own CD reissue of this recording. Keith Hardwick's fine transfers offer admirable warmth and definition, certainly sufficient to appreciate the singular greatness of this performance. Now comes a new remastering from VIP records, a company specializing in reissues of vintage performances. According to the insert this CD is "Transferred from original 78rpm shellac disks by Stephen Worth using no intrusive digital manipulation." Whatever the technology involved, the results are astonishing. The voices emerge with a range of colors and presence not apparent on the EMI CD. This is particularly true for Lauritz Melchior, whose voice rings out with the kind of power, richness, and beauty that made him the finest Wagnerian tenor of his day (or of any day, for that matter). I've heard this Walküre countless times, but while listening to the VIP restoration of Melchior's rendition of Siegmund's narrative, "Ein Schwert verhiess mir der vater," I literally had goose-bumps. Along with the Masterworks Heritage Melchior-Traubel Wagner set (Sony Classical MH2K 60896), this VIP Walküre is the most impressive and lifelike reproduction of Melchior's voice I've ever heard. And the Walküre has the advantage of an earlier recording date, in which Melchior was in more youthful voice.

Likewise, the voices of Lotte Lehmann and Emanuel List are heard to far better advantage on this VIP issue, although the difference is not quite as stunning as in Melchior's case. Perhaps the orchestral contribution has slightly less detail than the EMI CD, but I'll gladly make that trade for the extraordinary presence given the voices. Surface noise from the 78s is fairly constant, but not obtrusive. As a bonus the disc also includes Melchior's RCA recording of Tannh”user's "Hymn to Venus," also superbly transferred. At mid-price this CD is not to be missed. Here's hoping for more from Stephen Worth and VIP.

K.M. (October 2002)