SET SVANHOLM sings Wagner
Swedish tenor Set Svanholm (1904-1964) was an elementary school teacher and organist before he began his professional singing career as a baritone. After about six years his voice developed its higher range and in 1936 he made his debut as a tenor with the Stockholm Royal Opera as Radames. In 1935 after a guest appearance he remained at the Vienna State Opera until 1945. He attracted much attention at the 1938 Salzburg Festival as Walther in Die Meistersinger and as Tannhaüser. In 1942 he sang Siegfried in the Ring cycle at the Bayreuth Festival and joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1946 where he remained until 1956 singing Siegfried, Tristan and Parsifal as well as Manrico, Radames, Otello and Canio. He frequently appeared in Vienna, Covent Garden and at La Scala. In 1957 Svanholm was appointed director of the Royal Stockholm Opera, continuing with guest appearances in opera, oratorio and concerts until his death seven years later. In 1958 he recorded Loge in the magnificent Decca/London recording of Das Rheingold. Had it been a decade earlier he doubtless would have been Siegmund or Siegfried.
Svanholm's voice was lean, pure and powerful. There are no tenors on the scene today who have the surety and range of the Swedish tenor. His voice didn't have the heft and stamina of Melchior, but there was a spiritual quality to his singing that, combined with his good looks and athletic appearance, made him visually as well as vocally perfect for many roles. Preiser's notes make the ambiguous statement that...
."the tumultuous post-war period made a documentation of Svanholm's voice well nigh impossible, at least as far as his true stature was concerned. It is well-known that several 'live' recordings are extant that preserve his artistry. It is well-known that many singers do not achieve the immediacy in the recording studio that they often realise (sic) before an audience. Svanholm's thrilling 'live' appearances are an audible proof of this."
Indeed there are a few live recordings available including a 1948 Daphne (which also features Rose Bampton). Preiser's statement suggests Svanholm's commercial recordings heard on this CD do not present the tenor at his finest, which is not true. Frieder Weissman conducts all recordings made in 1947, the year after his Met debut, as well as those made in 1950. Karl Böhm conducts the two extended scenes from Die Walküre (the Act II scene between Siegmund and Brunnhilde, "Siegmund! Sieh' auf mich," and Love Music from Tristan and Isolde), both recorded in England with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Wagner singing of this calibre has been virtually unheard in opera houses during the past two decades. When I first heard of this reissue of Svanholm's Wagner I hoped it would feature the stunning Siegfried final duet recorded with Eileen Farrell, Erich Leinsdorf and the Rochester Philharmonic for RCA -- let us hope that will be issued in the future. In the meantime here is a glorious memento of one of the top Wagnerians of the past century, sadly under-represented on recordings.