Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Sir Georg Solti, Wiener Philharmoniker, Vienna State Opera Choir|
Wagner - Der Ring des Nibelungen (Ring Cycle) / Sir Georg Solti
Modern storage media (CD/DVD) offer both high fidelity and great reliability in the playback of music. Yet only a bit more than a generation ago, the possibilities inherent in the long-playing record inspired John Culshaw,... more »
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Modern storage media (CD/DVD) offer both high fidelity and great reliability in the playback of music. Yet only a bit more than a generation ago, the possibilities inherent in the long-playing record inspired John Culshaw, a young producer for Decca, to attempt the most ambitious recording project ever contemplated up to that time--a complete studio recording of the Ring. Though other Rings were issued after this landmark enterprise, none have equaled the Decca Ring in popularity. There are those who prefer live performances, or who feel that the sound and theatrical effects in this recording are overdone; nonetheless this remains the benchmark Ring, as shown by its seemingly endless rerelease schedule. The Ring effort was high profile at the time and helped nail down Sir Georg Solti's status as a "superstar" conductor and authoritative interpreter of the Wagnerian repertory. Another key contributor to the success of the project was the uniform excellence in the casting. Definitive performances given include Neidlinger's nietzschean Alberich, Stolze's whining Mime, Boehme's rumbling Fafnir, along with Nilsson in her prime-more a force of nature than a human voice. The care lavished on the capture of the music was unmatched at the time of the recording, and still leaves this as one of the best sounding Rings even today, when the oldest part (Rheingold) has reached its 40th anniversary. --Christian C. Rix
The Gold Standard
Stephen McLeod | New York, NY USA | 05/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have three complete RINGs on CD, this one and two live recordings from Bayreuth (Bohm '67 and Clemens Kraus '53). I also have two complete RINGS on laser disc, both from Bayreuth (the Chereau and Kupfer productions) and one on VHS (Met-Levine). One day I'm sure I'll have more. Since I have only heard bits of what appears to be this set's main competition (Karajan), I can't make a reliable comparison. Also, insofar as this review compares sets, it does just that. I take no position here as to whether one might mix and match. That said, if I had to choose a Desert Island RING, I'd choose this one for a number of reasons. (If anyone wants to donate their Karajan set, my email is on my profile page...) The foremost reason is the quality of the singing. For my money, there is not a cast that is more consistently thrilling. I'm not saying that different choices could have been made in some of the series (e.g., for all its sentimental and historical value, Fricka was not Flagstad's greatest role, nor was Flagstad the perfect Fricka). It's just that, on the whole, the principles, are the best ensemble on record, and, especially in Gotterdammerung, sang better here than on practically anything else they ever recorded.Nilsson is... well, not only is she one of the two or three greatest dramatic sopranos on record, she is so clearly focused here, so thoroughly transcendent. Hers was a voice that was entirely convincing as a god-become-mortal. Windgassen is the finest Siegfried on stereo - and his silky, lyrical, yet completely heroic tenor is better than any other recorded Siegfried, and maybe better than anything else even *he* ever recorded. Although it would seem to go without saying, mysteriously, it does not: It can't be stressed enough how important it is to have a good Siegfried. This is where every other set fails most remarkably (S. Jerusalem on Levine, for example almost dies trying to get through his last scene in Gotterdammerung; even where Windgassen reprises his role for Bohm, he's much more pleasing here). As Wotan, Hans Hotter's performance here has been somewhat controversial because people generally say he was too old. (Hotter sings on Walkure and Siegfriend; George London is Wotan on Rhinegold.) On the contrary, his Wotan is the most heartbreaking on record for me precisely because it comes at the end of a long career of studying and singing this role, finding its depths, and reaching for dramatic resonance that no one else equals, IMHO. Sure Morris is great, but while his Wotan is bigger more furious, Hotter's is wiser and more deeply resigned. Anyway, are you going to buy a whole set for Morris? Neidlinger's Alberich is terrifying. Gustav Neidlinger's Alberich is a combination of absolute musicality with unsurpassed dramatic rigor. He is existentially terrifying in every scene that he's in. James King and Regine Crespin are fine as the twins. This Walkure is generally regarded as the weakest leg on this set. I think that's only because the human mind, and particularly the mind of the typical "operatchik," works that way - it is essential to find fault. Nothing is perfect but that unrecorded ideal performance in the misty past... I don't have a clue what is objectionable here. The only thing I can think of is that, of all the parts of this RING, it is possible to imagine a cast that's equally as good as that of Walkure here. The second string is equally inimitable: Gottlob Frick's amazing Hagen and almost as amazing Hunding , Fischer-Dieskau's Gunther, Claire Watson's Gutrune, and Christa Ludwig's fine Waltraute. Of equal interests are such "incidentals" such as Joan Sutherland's Woodbird, the Rhinemaiden trio in Gotterdammerung of Lucia Popp, Gwyneth Jones and Maureen Guy (who?), the amazing Gerhard Stolze as Mime on Siegfried, and of course, Flagstad's Fricka only add miracles upon miracles. Does anyone think that we'll ever see a comparable cast?As for Solti and the VPO, well, first, I don't think Vienna has ever been touched for its pure sensuality. I love the moods. I love the thunder. I love the horns and the voluptuous strings. As for Solti, I'm a fan: I love his drama and his melodrama. I totally disagree with his detractors who complain of his alleged bombast. Shouldn't an authentic Wagnerian show a little bombast? And shouldn't a RING orchestra stand as something far more than a huge "guitar" in any performance? Not only that, but to read some reviewers, you would think that "bombast" was this recording's main characteristic. Frankly, I just don't understand that view. I think the orchestral performance here, whether attributable mainly to Solti, producer Culshaw, the VPO or all three, has not been surpassed in subtlety and insight on anything I've ever heard. Finally, there's the Culshaw factor. Those who know what he was doing here will have their opinions. I think it was a monumental project that took as its touchstone an truth about this drama that is too often ignored: This music was written for the stage. Any audio recording then, will be ultimately lacking. What Culshaw did, more successfully than any other producer, was give us an audio RING that, by explointing stereo/hi-fi technology, approximates a theatrical experience. I could go on. But ultimately, it is my opinion that at least here, you can believe the hype."
Possibly the greatest recording of the century
Stephen McLeod | 08/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ever since the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival in 1951, the operatic world has been blessed with many Ring recordings that are brimming with life and searing in interpretation. The work is certainly the most ambitious and fascinating musical epic ever set on paper, and due to its intricate music and magnificent and poetic text, it has influenced the way music making has been done ever since the Master presented it to the world in 1876. Now, 130 years after that first Ring cycle, the market abounds with hordes of Ring recordings raging from magnificent to deplorable, and with the cost of having to contain such a grand epic in recordable media for the listener to enjoy at home, the pricetags for these Rings are always going to be astounding.
A Ring cycle in the recording studio, of course, is no longer a foreseeable possibility today. The recent Tristan by EMI alone took a good month in the recoring studio, and with the increasingly high wages in the musician's union and the expensive fees needed to pay competent and artistic Wagnerian singers, another Ring in the studio would probably be a Herculean task at best. And, to add to that, the world is sorely lackiing of hochdramatische sopranos, true heldentenors, and great bass-baritones to sing the parts of the cycle's most difficult roles--Brunnhilde, Siegfried, and Wotan. The dearth of these species of voices, plus the scarcity of conductors who can masterfully lead an orchestra into playing one of the most complicated scores ever written in the true Wagnerian style, makes these matters more complicated. In my opinion, only Christian Thielemann can possibly execute this vision effectively today. Due to this, in order to be able to experience this monumental opus, you must turn to the recordings of the past to sample the greatness of Richard Wagner.
I personally feel that the greatest Rings come from the postwar Wieland Wagner Bayreuth festivals. Under his leadership, a calibre of Wagner singing was formed and has been unmatched ever since his premature death from lung cancer. With a team that consisted of chorus master Wilhelm Pitz, singers Astrid Varnay, Hans Hotter, Wolfgang Windgassen, Ramon Vinay, Gustav Neidlinger, Gre Brouwenstijn, Martha Modl, and later Birgit Nilsson, Martti Talvela, James King, Leonie Rysanek, and other singers who owned these roles in the Theatre on the Green Hill, plus a plethora of conductors that consisted of Herbert von Karajan, Hans Knappertsbusch, Clemens Krauss, Joseph Keilberth, and Rudolf Kempe (all conductors who by some divine intervention all had last names beginning with "K"), Wieland Wagner unveiled a new and fresh way of Wagner interpretation along with a team of singers and musicians who made this great music sing.
Some people though, would much prefer the music in the undisturbed, almost pristine conditions achieved by the recording studio. While there are several Der Ring des Nibelungen that have come out of recording halls following this one, none of them have matched it in popularity. And there is a reason for that of course. Solti leads the Wiener Philharmoniker in a recording that brings the theatrical values of Wagner's operas to the comfort of the living room without the stage noises and other distractions that some listeners seem to detest. In addition to that, the care put into immortalizing this Ring in recording media has made it one of the most "real"-sounding performances on disc. Here, you get the steerhorns and tuned anvils and metal bars that Wagner personally requested to be put into the score, in addition to other sound effects that would be impossible to realize in the theater. You can hear the violent thunder in the opening of Act III of Siegfried and the closing scene of Rheingold. I could go on about all these little details, but I leave that for you to witness yourself.
That said about its realistic audio qualities, I would like to discuss the merits of Solti's conducting. It is true that while Solti had a heavy hand in this recording in comparison with conductors such as Karajan, Krauss, Bohm, and Boulez who exuded transparency in their readings, he brings everything in the score to life. He understands Wagner's score well, and his reading is closer to Knappertsbusch on a good day, a method that harkens the traditional way of conducting Wagner. He also has good judgment as to where tempi changes must be made, as can be heard from the closing scene of Das Rheingold. The orchestration during Donner's "Heda Hedo!" is simply ravishing, and the tempi that Solti uses and adjusts to sounds dramatically right. Wagner himself would have been proud. His understanding of the more complex and post-Tristan scores of Siegfried and Gotterdammerung are still unparalleled today. From the Mime Wanderer riddle scene to the Forging song to the Wotan Erda confrontation and the glorious love duet that ends the opera, Solti gets all the orchestral nuances perfectly. His Siegfried is so alive, that any recording after that can be considered below par. But if there was ever one recording that deserved the praise this Ring receives, it has to be Solti's Gotterdammerung. From the haziness of the Norn scene to the Dawn love duet and the Gibichung hall music, and the Waltraute Brunnhilde dialogue, I think Solti captures this Act perfectly. Act 2 is done well too, with Gottlob Frick's menacing Hagen and Neidlinger's definitive Alberich creating a most sinister mood accompanied by Solti's masterly conducting. The revenge trio that caps the act is perfectly executed by the Vienna Philharmonic, and I think that if it were not for the presence of Knappertsbusch's recent Testament release with Varnay and Uhde, this would also probably be the best Act II on disc. Then we have Act III, the culmination of the Ring cycle. From the chattering of the Rhinemaidens to Siegfried's death and funeral march to the glorious Immolation Scene, I think this Act III represents Wagner's music at its greatest, and no other recording captures the essence of the final moments of the Ring with all its synthesis of the various leitmotifs in such a moving manner. This is, perhaps, the best conducted Ring of the studios, and on a good day, I would feel exceeds that of the Bayreuth rings. (Hey! I have my Wagner whims too, and on some days, I if tend to have a preference for Krauss, Karajan, Knappertsbusch, or Bohm...that is my preference! Chacun a son gout!)
Now for the cast. I have never seen such a glorious cast assembled in the recording studio such as this, and everything from Neidlinger's Alberich, Nilsson's Brunnhilde, Hotter and London's Wotans, Windgassens's Siegfried, Flagstad's Rheingold Fricka and Ludwig's Walkure Fricka, Hoffgen's Erda, King's Siegmund, Crespin's Sieglinde, Frick's Hagen and Hunding, Bohme's characterful Fafner, Sutherland woodbird, Stolze's Mime, and the chattery and lusty Walkures, Norns, and Rheinmaidens is simply a vocal treat. That said, these individual singers' solo performances can be heard to greater advantages elsewhere, but nowhere are they captured better vocally than here. Of course, some singers such as Hotter are no longer in their prime, but what a magnificent performance he gives! His Wotan is so grand and noble that I think that the only Wotan who beats him is his younger self. Nilsson's Brunnhilde is a force of nature. Her missile-like voice is fascinating, encompassing Brunnhilde's vocal music with such ease that one would think Brunnhilde was a walk in the park. She is hands-down one of the greatest Brunnhildes ever, along with Astrid Varnay and Martha Modl. Siegfried here is sung by Windgassen, the tenor who single-handedly solved Bayreuth's heldentenor shortage for more than a decade. His voice, of course, has aged, but he is such an intelligent artist that one cannot help but listen to his Siegfried artistically portrayed without any vocal problems that today's many Siegfrieds encounter. James King is a most moving Siegmund, surpassed only by his Bohm interpretation and possibly Ramon Vinay on a good day, and his Sieglinde, Regine Crespin, is one of the most female and human singers ever to have brought the role to life. Christa Ludwig is the most sumptuous Fricka and Waltraute on disc, combining her great vocal beauty with her consummate artistry. Her singing here is nothing short of definitive. The Walkures are all great, the cast including two future Brunnhildes: Helga Dernesch and Berit Lindholm. The supporting cast of giants is also very good, with Kurt Bohme as a most characterful Fafner. I think that the Fasolt could have been sung better though. The Norns also consist of some of the most famous singers of the Wagnerian oeuvre, some of them taking the great roles in the years to come. Hoffgen sings Erda magnificently. My only quibble here is the casting choices used for Rheingold's Rheintochters. They sound a bit old. They characterize their characters playfully, but one could wish that Solti had used the maidens singing for Karajan or Bohm's recording. Otherwise, the cast is almost flawless.
Must this be your first Ring? With the care lavished on such a great project (Culshaw's attention to the miniscule details in the score), Solti's wonderful conducting, and a cast that truly represents the golden age of Wagner, I would say, this is an essential recording for anyone's collection. It is possibly the greatest achievement in the recording studio, and in many ways, the greatest recording of the century."
An outstanding Ring Cycle
email@example.com | Cambridge, MA USA | 04/16/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First of all, let me say this - the Ring Cycle is so massive, complex and towering that a perfect recording is impossible. This 1958-65 cycle was the first studio recording, and it is still the most popular. Listening to it, I find that Solti, maybe the greatest Wagner conductor of that time, is very strong - but even he has his weaknesses. Some of the lyrical moments of the cycle are not as moving as they might be. He is at his best in the loud, dramatic sections - he values momentary effect over the structure for the long-run. But he still produces a wonderful interpretation, playing to his strengths and covering over his weaknesses as much as possible. The Vienna Philharmonic must have a paragraph all to itself. Its playing in this cycle is perhaps the finest orchestral playing I have ever heard. The shimmer of the strings, the power of the brass, the sweetness of the woodwind - unbelievable. This wonderful orchestra contributes significantly to the effect of this "Ring." The soloists are very good, if not quite glorious. Birgit Nilsson is an excellent Brünnhilde, though sometimes the cold steeliness of the voice detracts from the value of her performance. Kirsten Flagstad is still the benchmark Brünnhilde. Wolfgang Windgassen is also excellent, but he is more lyric than helden. He makes up for the lack of an outstanding instrument with outstanding interpretation and insight. Melchior is probably the best Siegfried ever. Hans Hotter is really superb as Wotan - almost flawless. His voice is past its prime, but his insight and interpretation are so wonderful and magnificent that it more than makes up for any loss of richness in the voice. Gustav Neidlinger as Alberich is every bit as good - his voice is ideally suited to the role and he uses it very well. His interpretation of Alberich is almost frighteningly intense. Gottlob Frick is superb as both Hunding and Hagen - playing the latter, his voice takes on a blackness and hugeness that is menacing, frightening and evil. I would rather have heard Jon Vickers than James King as Siegmund, but King is very good. Régine Crespin is very good as Sieglinde, though she sometimes gets a bit shrill. Gerhard Stolze as Mime is astonishing - the voice is definitely unpleasant - but it helps portray Mime for what he is - a snarling, cowardly, selfish, evil dwarf. All the other roles are well taken. So ... this is a very good recording of the Ring. There are many others out there that many people prefer, but I think this one is still the best, thirty or forty years after its first release."