The first of two landmark DG recordings remastered and re-released on June 12, Karajan’s 1966 Die Walküre by Richard Wagner was remastered at Emil Berliner Studios in 24 bit/192kHz. It is presented on Blu-ray Audio in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, 5.1 Surround Sound plus 2 CDs produced from the new mastering.
The recording of Die Walküre took place in Berlin in September and October 1966, six months before the unveiling of the stage production at the first Easter Festival in Salzburg on 19 March 1967. The Berlin Philharmonic’s schedules leading up to their inaugural sessions as a Wagner theatre orchestra showed no particular emphasis. A certain amount of Bruckner had crept back into the repertory; but, then, so had music by Bach, Webern, Honegger and Ravel. Karajan’s schooling of the orchestra had been as subtle as it was long-term, a little like his Wagner conducting, which was concerned more than ever with transparency and beauty of textural and contrapuntal detailing, a new kind of relationship between voice and orchestra, and long-term dramatic structure.
Karajan had assembled a superb cast of singers: voices in one or two instances that stood in marked contrast to the “old Wagner cannons” (Karajan’s phrase) most people were used to. He had a reputation for wanting singers to sing like instrumentalists and instrumentalists to play like singers. This is true up to a point. But he also had a preoccupation with vivid declamation of the text. Jon Vickers has recalled how Karajan had no use for singers who simply made beautiful sounds. Those who lapsed into generalized warbling were usually drowned out and then banished. The beauty of Vickers’s mezza voce singing in parts of Act I of the present recording of Die Walküre is something to wonder at. But the words tell, too: extraordinarily so.
The full glory of Karajan’s “beautiful, dramatic reading” (High Fidelity) of Die Walküre is revealed by Blu-ray technology. “Half a century later, this is a recording that can still offer up surprises” (Gramophone). “It is a pleasure to hear this great recording at its very best…Listen to Gundula Janowitz and Jon Vickers in Act 1 and be seduced” (Limelight).