OP0122. TANNHÂUSER, recorded 1930, Bayreuth, w.Elmendorff Cond. Bayreuth Festspiele Ensemble; Sigismund Pilinszky, Maria Müller, Ruth Jost-Arden, Ivar Andrésen, Herbert Janssen, etc. (E.U.) 2-Naxos 8.110094/95. Transfers by Ward Marston. Final Sealed Copy! - 636943109427
"In 1927 the Columbia Graphophone Company recorded excerpts from PARSIFAL in the Festspielhaus, Bayreuth. This marked a turning-point in the story of ‘location’ recording and, keen to capitalise on the success of their first efforts in Wagner’s theatre, in 1928 the company’s engineers were able to set down sizeable extracts from TRISTAN UND ISOLDE conducted by Karl Elmendorff. Spurred on by yet more favourable reviews, in 1930 Columbia planned to make an abridged set, on thirty-six 78 rpm sides, of the composer’s son Siegfried Wagner’s new production of TANNHÄUSER, conducted by Arturo Toscanini; but because of his contract with Victor Records, Toscanini was unable to participate in the project and Elmendorff was invited to conduct instead. These are not records of ‘live’ performances, but were made during August in the empty theatre, and comprise about four fifths of the score. The tricky job of deciding on the cuts was undertaken by the celebrated critic Ernest Newman, whose knowledge and understanding of Wagner’s music was almost second to none, and by Siegfried Wagner. Siegfried’s death, during the very month of recording, and that of his mother Cosima four months earlier, must have cast a shadow over the whole proceedings but the sessions went ahead nevertheless. Musically the results were magnificent, hardly surprising in view of the fine cast and experienced conductor that were assembled; and by 1930 Columbia’s technical expertise ensured that, even in the spacious empty theatre, such large orchestral and choral forces would transfer successfully to wax.
Of the five principals, Müller, Jost-Arden, Pilinszky, Janssen and Andrésen, four were making their Bayreuth débuts in this new production of TANNHÄUSER - only Andrèsen had sung there previously. It was also Toscanini’s first season there (he returned the following year, but never subsequently conducted at the Festival) and his influence is naturally seen in the selection of singers. He was keen to establish his mark on the new production, perhaps rejecting some of Bayreuth’s regular team in order to do so. Although he did not conduct the recording, Toscanini’s influence is sensed throughout, though Elmendorff was himself a greatly admired musician and must be given the credit for leading such a fine recorded performance. The orchestra plays magnificently, albeit in a style considered old-fashioned today; but it was the fashion then, and we are fortunate even to be able to make the comparison.
The cuts imposed on the set are not unduly serious, and none of the best known numbers are affected (though the famous Entry of the Guests in Act 2 is abbreviated). One complete, short, scene is omitted (Act 2, Scene 3) and several other sections are excised (the Landgrave’s introduction to the Song Contest is one). Happily the first act is complete, thus allowing us to hear the most significant of Wagner’s ‘Paris’ amendments in full.
Sigismund Pilinszky was born in Budapest in 1891 and died there in 1957. He studied at the Budapest Conservatory and later in Leipzig and Berlin. He made his operatic début in Miskolc in north-eastern Hungary, and from 1913 sang at the National Opera in the capital. In 1928 Pilinszky was John in Meyerbeer’s LE PROPHÈTE in Berlin and in 1930-1 sang Tannhäuser at Bayreuth. He travelled extensively as a guest tenor to Vienna, London, Chicago and San Francisco but returned to Budapest and, in retirement, became a teacher. His rather nasal voice has, however, great resonance and heroic power.
Maria Müller was born in Theresienstadt in 1898 and trained at Prague Conservatory and in Vienna. Her début, as Elsa, was at Linz in 1919 and from 1925 to 1935 she appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, singing rôles by Mozart, Wagner, Smetana, Verdi and Strauss among others. Müller sang regularly in Berlin from 1926, at Covent Garden, in Vienna, Milan, Paris and Salzburg. From 1930 she was a frequent visitor to Bayreuth, where her clear lyric soprano was highly regarded, and she retired there after her final performances in Berlin in 1952. She died in Bayreuth in 1958.
Ruth Jost-Arden was born in Berlin in 1899 and died in Bayreuth in 1985. She began her career as a concert soprano in North America, where she was heard by Toscanini and chosen for Bayreuth’s new production of TANNHÄUSER in 1930. Rôles that Jost-Arden sang in Cologne from 1931-1940 include Isolde, Brünnhilde, Kundry, Elektra, Salome and Leonore and, in 1933, the lead at the première of Siegfried Wagner’s opera DER HEIDENKÖNIG. Her bright, fresh tone was surely warmly welcomed there in such a dramatic repertory; as guest artist, Jost-Arden appeared in Paris, Milan, Venice, Brussels, New York and Boston.
Herbert Janssen, born in Cologne in 1892, made his début in 1922 at the Berlin Staatsoper. He remained with the company until 1938 when he left Germany and moved to the United States. Janssen sang the lighter Wagnerian baritone rôles.”