In 2006/07 Testament released for the first time ever (on 14 CDs – SBT141412) the legendary stereo recordings made by Decca at Bayreuth of the first cycle of the 1955 performances of the Ring, conducted by Joseph Keilberth and staged by the Festival’s co-director, the radical regisseur Wieland Wagner. Partly for security, partly out of interest, Decca’s engineers under Peter Andry also recorded the second cycle, from which this first-ever release of Götterdämmerung is drawn, providing a chance to appreciate the depth of New Bayreuth’s casting resources. For these performances Martha Mödl took over as Brünnhilde (she and Astrid Varnay regularly alternated in the Festival cycles between 1953 and 1956) while Hans Hotter, the production’s Wotan/Wanderer from 1952, took on the role of Gunther, one of the other Ring roles which (along with a rare Hunding in New York at the strange behest of Rudolf Bing) he occasionally undertook. The reason for Hotter’s appearance as the Gibichung leader appears to have been to allow Hermann Uhde, the production’s regular Gunther, to settle into the new production of Der fliegende Holländer (available on Testament SBT21384) opening that year – although Hotter himself also sang the Dutchman that year. Martha Mödl (1912-2001) was one of the new, yet highly experienced, generation of singers that Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner were so keen to bring to their new take on post-war Bayreuth. By 1950 she was singing Kundry in Berlin for Joseph Keilberth and for Wilhelm Furtwängler at La Scala. Both conductors took her up in a big way (Furtwängler recorded Fidelio, the complete Ring for Rome Radio and his EMI studio Walküre with her) and recommended her to Bayreuth where she sang from 1951-60, in 1962 and from 1965-67. She was the first Kundry in Wieland’s new Parsifal under Knappertsbusch (1951-60); the first Isolde in his first Tristan under Karajan; a mainstay of his first Ring as Brünnhilde, once Sieglinde (which she regarded as a mistake), Gutrune and even the Third Norn; Waltraute in his second Ring from 1965-67 (“you know”, Wieland told her on his sick bed, “it’s like a little Brünnhilde, and that’s how I want you to play it”); and took over Isolde from Birgit Nilsson (the singer that Mödl’s mother had once heard and told her daughter “that’s a real rival for all of you!”) at the final performance of the first run of Wieland’s second Tristan.
Extract from the note Mike Ashman, 2008