OP1805. LOHENGRIN, Live Performance, 1958, w.Cluytens Cond. Bayreuth Festival Ensemble; Sandor Konya, Leonie Rysanek, Astrid Varnay, Ernest Blanc, Kieth Engen, Eberhard Waechter, Gerhard Stolze, etc. (E.U.) 4-Walhall 0250 - 4035122652505
"The noted Hungarian tenor Sandor Konya was surely the most successful Lohengrin of the 1950s and 60s, and I think a legitimate case can be made that he was the finest Lohengrin after Lauritz Melchior. Konya had a voice that combined power with a liquid tonal beauty, enabling him to sing with dramatic thrust and tenderness as the music required. He made a fine appearance in a studio recording of the opera in 1965 (RCA) with Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony, following a series of Tanglewood performances (three performances of one act per concert).
I am familiar with three live performances with Konya that have been preserved, two of which have been reviewed in FANFARE (interestingly, the RCA recording never was). Earliest is a 1958 Bayreuth performance, led by André Cluytens, with Leonie Rysanek's thrilling Elsa. It was reviewed enthusiastically by John Yohalem (FANFARE 5:2) and William Youngren (8:1). Perhaps even more enthusiasm was displayed by Youngren (6:5) and me (31:1) about a 1959 Bayreuth performance led by Lovro von Matacic with the lovely Elsa of Elisabeth Grummer. The tenor is wonderful in all performances, but this one from the Met in 1964 catches Konya at perhaps the finest point of his career. He had had enough experience with the role (he first sang it in 1953) to really inhabit the character and to drop some of the excessive sobbing he inserted earlier. At the same time his voice was still in its healthy prime. Because Konya possessed the ideal kind of voice for Lohengrin, he clearly relishes the role. I know of very few performances of 'In fernem Land' or 'Mein lieber Schwan', even on recital discs, that I prefer....
There is not a clear 'best' recording (longtime FANFARE readers know of my allergy to naming 'bests'), but this one is certainly on a par with the two Bayreuth performances. Matacic, a much under-valued conductor, may lead the most powerful and incisive of the three performances, but Cluytens and Rosenstock are not routiniers.
Any Wagner collection would be incomplete without a representation of Konya's Lohengrin."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"The dramatic soprano Astrid Varnay was born into an operatic family: her mother was a coloratura soprano and her father a spinto tenor. The year in which she was born they founded the Opera Comique Theatre in Kristiania, Sweden, although they were both born in Hungary, and they managed it until 1921.The family then moved to Argentina and later to New York, where her father died in 1924. Her mother subsequently remarried another tenor, and the young Astrid, after studying to be a pianist, decided at the age of eighteen to become a singer. She worked intensively, first with her mother and then with the Metropolitan Opera conductor and coach Hermann Weigert, whom she later married. She made her sensational stage début at the Metropolitan in 1941, substituting at short notice for Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde in DIE WALKÜRE with no rehearsal. After this triumph, six days later she replaced Helen Traubel in the same opera as Brünnhilde, and her operatic career was effectively launched. She made her Covent Garden début in 1948 and, at the suggestion of Kirsten Flagstad, her Bayreuth Festival début in 1951. She sang every year at Bayreuth for the next seventeen years and at the Met until 1956, when she left following a disagreement with Rudolf Bing. She henceforth concentrated her career on Germany where she was revered, living in Munich. She moved from the dramatic soprano repertoire into that for mezzo-soprano in 1969, and during the 1980s into character parts. She made her last appearance in Munich in 1995, almost fifty-five years after her Metropolitan début. Her brilliant career is well documented in both commercial and unofficial sound recordings."
- David Patmore
“André Cluytens was among the leading French conductors of his time. His father, Alphonse, was conductor at the Royal French Theater of Antwerp. André became his assistant and a choirmaster there. When an illness prevented Alphonse from conducting, André made his performance début in 1927. After that experience he devoted his efforts to orchestral and opera conducting rather than choral work, and he became a resident conductor in the house.
In 1932 he accepted a position as the musical director of orchestral concerts at the Capitole de Toulouse, and he became a French citizen. In 1935 was appointed the opera director in Lyons. He was an assistant of Josef Krips in a summer series in Vichy and, once again, was called on to substitute when that conductor could not perform. He became musical director of the Lyons Opera in 1942, conductor of the Conservatoire Concerts and the French National Radio Orchestra in Paris in 1943, and in 1944 conducted at the Opéra de Paris. From 1947 to 1953 he was music director of the Paris Opéra-Comique, and in 1949 was appointed as principal conductor of the Conservatory Concerts. He retained that position for the rest of his life. In 1955 he was invited to conduct LOHENGRIN at the Bayreuth Festival, the first French person to appear on the podium there. He débuted in the United States in 1956, and in Britain in 1958, when he substituted for Otto Klemperer. He formed a close relationship with the Vienna State Opera, which he first conducted in 1956, becoming a permanent guest conductor in 1959. In 1960 he became conductor of the Belgian National Orchestra in Belgium, also holding that post until his death. He also formed a close link with the Berlin Philharmonic, with which he made a notable recording of the Beethoven symphonies. However, he was primarily known for French repertoire, premiering works by Françaix, Jolivet, Messiaen, Milhaud, Tomasi, Büsser, and Bondeville. He was invited back to Bayreuth in 1965.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com