I took a Road Trip in August and brought along some Bach chamber music, the complete Bruckner Symphonies, and Reginald Goodall’s EMI recording of the Ring, from performances at the Coliseum in 1977. I first attended the Ring in late 1976 at the Coliseum and so these English language recordings claim a special place in my heart.
I’ve dipped into them now and then, and when I did so they seemed (by current taste) ponderous, self-aware and vocally dated. But driving through northern Montana with Alberich’s curse blasting away was a different matter entirely. This is a phenomenal reading of the score, distinct from all others and eye-opening when heard with attention and concentration.
Goodall may be seen as an alternative German interpreter to Furtwängler and Knappertsbusch. He is deeply romantic. In his hands Wagner is heard through the filter of Schumann. Each part of the Ring is part of a loving and sensitive arc-like phrase, aiming towards a point of sweetness. Passages like Siegfried’s early narrative of his exploits in Act III of Gotterdammerung, or his exit in Act II, are attended to with care. And Alberto Remedios is just the tenor for the job — a forward-placed voice fit for beauty, nuance and meaningful communication. It may sound nuts, but some of the singing sounded like telling the story of Die Schöne Müllerin.
I well remember Derek Hammond Stroud’s Alberich and Rita Hunter’s enormous Brünnhilde, but listening to Norman Bailey’s Wotan/Wanderer was simply a stupendous experience. From his greeting of Valhalla to his resigned exit with broken spear, his tone was muscular, his musicality was impeccable, and his understanding of what Goodall was on about was seamless. After all these years and all these Wotan’s, perhaps Bailey is it.
Wagner as a German Romantic makes perfect sense as long as one doesn’t get distracted by theory and subsequent historical interpretation. That increasingly reliable source, Wikipedia, notes Goodall’s passionate German affinity, and his devotion to the Nazi regime. After years of relative ostracism, and a post-war tiff with Solti at the Royal Opera, “Goodall achieved his own prominence in later life once he was able to come out from under the shadow of some of the great German and Austrian conductors of his era, for whom he understudied, conducted rehearsals and provided vocal coaching.” His appointment to Sadler’s Wells eventually led to this astonishing and — as I say — distinctive achievement.
Goodall take the time it takes to bring out the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic treasures in these rich scores. One thinks less of “slow tempo” and instead of “mining the voices in the score.” He makes demands on the singers’ breathing, and in return grants the singers the gift of liberty and beauty in phrasing and communicative intent.
The original production was hampered by uncharacteristically ugly designs by Ralph Koltai and a failed production concept by Glen Byam Shaw and John Blatchley. Sitting for many hours and just hearing the performance (lasting several hours longer than other recordings) is an undiluted, undistracted, uninterrupted joy. It’s like hearing it anew and I recommend that you give it a try with open, and Romantically-inclined, ears.