Thursday, January 17, 2013

Don't Listen to This Lohengrin (Ludwig and Fischer-Dieskau)

Yup! More Lohengrin.
If you listen to Christa Ludwig and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Ortrud and Telramund in this performance of Lohengrinyou will be spoiled forever. No one else will ever live up to your expectations after hearing these master singers. They manage to sound evil without resorting to either barking or shrieking. Maybe you like your Lohengrin villains to sound nastier, but I love the way these two interpret their parts. 

I am not usually one to sigh for any bygone "golden age" of singers, Wagnerian or otherwise, but...SIGH.

I’ve been in love with Christa Ludwig since her Marschallin in the 70s. I went back to her Octavian in the 50s and then filled in the gaps, up to and including her “Old Lady” in Candide.  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was in my consciousness before I knew it. My sister had the Zauberflöte recording with him as Papageno (it was on American Decca). He was also my first Count Almaviva in Le Nozze. Later on, he was my touchstone for anything related to German Lieder. 

Act 2 Prelude and Scene 1, part 1
Erhebe dich, genossin meiner schmach! 

Today I would consider this luxury casting, but when this recording was made, they were just the singers who sang these roles. It was recorded 1962-63, with Rudolph Kempe conducting the Chorus of the Wiener Staatsoper and the Wiener Philharmoniker, and it’s perfectly cast: Jess Thomas was a major interpreter of this role, and while Elisabeth Grümmer never became a household name, she turns in a lovely, lyrical, and touching Elsa. 

But don’t just take my word for it. In addition to praising each singer, the reviewer at says, “The reading is…wonderfully intense, and Kempe is a true Wagnerian, making both the great long lines and the details a feast for the ear." 

(Btw, the sound quality on these clips is not optimal. The CD and mp3 sound better.) 

Act 2, Scene 1, part 2
Was macht dich in so wilder klage doch vergeh'n?

Here, the argument continues; 
And Elsa wanders in:

Act 2, Scene 1, part 3
Der rache werk sei nun beschworen

This recording is worth getting to hear not only some Lieder-quality Wagner singing, but a dramatic performance. But, listen at your own peril. You may never be able to go back to barking Telramunds and shrieking Ortruds ever again. 

Oh, I can't just stop there! Ortrud sets her plan in motion; 
A beautiful soprano duet ensues:

Act 2, Scene 1, part 4
Enweihte gotter! Helft jetzt meiner rache!

And we might as well round out the scene; 
Telramund comes back to swear vengeance; 
Then we hear the beautiful Morgenlied:

Act 2, Scene 1, part 5
So zieht das unheil in dies haus!

Thanks to the person who uploaded these tracks. I think you can find the rest at YT also. Better yet, buy the CD or download the mp3s for uninterrupted (and better sounding) Wagnerian pleasure!

Jess Thomas: Lohengrin
Elisabeth Grümmer: Elsa
Christa Ludwig: Ortrud
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Telramund
Gottlob Frick: König Heinrich
Otto Wiener: Der Heerufer
Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wiener Philharmoniker
Rudolf Kempe


  1. This was my second Lohengrin, the first the 1953 Bayreuth performance. I no longer collect or own CD's but if I had to make a choice between them I would be faced with a horrendous dillema. Varnay, of course, was not blessed with Ludwig's gorgeous voice but she was a great great Ortrud and with the great Uhde as Telramund it had to be superb theatre. Unquestionably the pairing of Ludwig and DFD is equally as potent. Steber's Bayreuth Elsa was exquisite, possibly one of her finest moments. Grummer, of course, was the mistress of the German repertoire that she made her own. When it comes to the titular hero I don't have the same passionate feelings. Neither can compare to Kaufmann's Munich performance, but at the time both of the earlier performances were released there was aufficient time gap between the two that I would consider both essential.

    1. Hi David. The '53 Bayreuth recording is available at Amazon to download for three bucks. I am downloading it as I type.

      I agree with you on the JK's Munich performance. Someone posted the entire thing on YT and I am working my way through one act at a time. Wonderful. Meanwhile, I am counting the days till the local cinema-cast of his La Scala performance. (I talked Dad into going with me!)

  2. Agree! I also try to avoid praising singers of the past to the detriment of present-day singers, but when I first heard this, in my teens, I thought Elisabeth Grummer had the sweetest voice I'd ever heard. I did manage to see her live in concert at some point in the 1960s.

    1. I have to admit, I mostly went for this recording based on Ludwig and Fischer-Dieskau, but really enjoy Grümmer's singing as well.


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