Search - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Richard Wagner, Jon Vickers :: Der Ring des Nibelungen / Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic

Der Ring des Nibelungen / Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Richard Wagner, Jon Vickers
Der Ring des Nibelungen / Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic
Genre: Classical
DG's 20-bit transfer reveals more tape hiss than before, while the orchestral image is better focused, with more definition at the bottom end. Some have likened Herbert von Karajan's "chamber-music approach" to Wagner's...  more »


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DG's 20-bit transfer reveals more tape hiss than before, while the orchestral image is better focused, with more definition at the bottom end. Some have likened Herbert von Karajan's "chamber-music approach" to Wagner's Ring cycle in terms of his scaling down or deconstructing the heroic roles. This approach has less to do with dynamics per se than it does with von Karajan's masterful balancing of voices and instruments. He achieves revelations of horizontal clarity, allowing no contrapuntal strand to emerge with an unwanted accent or a miscalibrated dynamic. The texts are unusually pinpointed and distinct, although the singers don't convey the experience and dimension of Sir Georg Solti's cast on London. There are exceptions. Jon Vickers's probing, complex Siegmund, for instance, is paired with Gundula Janowitz's radiant SIeglinde. Martti Talvela is arguably the most sympathetic, touching Fasolt on record, and Gerhard Stolz's Mime is less caricatured and more direct here than for Solti. I similarly prefer Christa Ludwig's Waltraute for von Karajan. The underrated Helge Brilioth's warmly ringing and musically solid Götterdämmerung Siegfried will be a welcome surprise. Smaller roles benefit from strong casting, notably the well-tuned Rheinmaidens and Valkyries. When all is said and done, however, it's von Karajan's show, and the glorious Berlin Philharmonic are the stars. --Jed Distler

CD Reviews

A glorious cycle in nearly every way! | Cambridge, MA USA | 05/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen is, in my opinion, one of, if not the, greatest musical works in history. It is fifteen hours of gorgeous, dramatic music, coupled to an endlessly fascinating and moving story. Needless to say, every recording of this gigantic work is going to be flawed in some way, so choosing a Ring recording is a question of personal tastes and preferences. While Solti's 1958-65 Vienna cycle is by far the most famous and popular, it is not the one I like the best. Herbert von Karajan's cycle, recorded from 1966 to 1970, is the best cycle I have ever heard. First and foremost, Karajan's conducting is almost perfect. He is both more lyrical (some moments in the cycle are astoundingly beautiful) and more dramatic (he makes thrilling use of the timpani in the big scenes) than his rivals, through his complete knowledge and mastery of Wagner's orchestral techniques and balances. This recording makes you realize how ingenious a composer Wagner was: 120 musicians playing as one, intertwining melody and harmony to produce one glorious whole. Karajan allows the orchestra their full sonority and tone-color but never drowns out or abandons the singers. He is helped by the fact that his orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, is the best in the world, even better than Solti's Vienna Philharmonic. These Berliners are so magnificent it takes your breath away. Added to this, the singers are in many cases preferable to Solti's - or other rivals. Helga Dernesch, in particular, is a revelation as Brünnhilde. Like Nilsson, she has a rich, powerful voice, but unlike Nilsson, her voice is warm and beautiful. She has a contralto-like fullness at the bottom of her range (a few years after she made this recording, she became a dramatic mezzo), a steady, beautiful middle register, and a glorious, radiant, powerful top. She has crystal clear diction and is such a convincing actress that the listener feels s/he is listening to Brünnhilde herself, not a singer. Unfortunately, she only appears in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung; Régine Crespin, the Walküre Brünnhilde, is an intelligent singer, but possesses nowhere near as magnificent an instrument as does Dernesch. Just as there are two Brünnhildes, there are also two Siegfrieds. In the third opera, Jess Thomas is excellent. He has a voice of unusually fine quality: rich and baritonal at the bottom and middle but ringing at the top. The only drawback is that his voice is a bit smaller than desirable, and he sometimes gets hoarse. Still, it is a commanding, colorful performance, and his singing in the love duet is very beautiful. In Götterdämmerung, Siegfried is sung by the vastly underrated Helge Brilioth. His voice is larger and even more beautiful than Thomas's. I wish he had sung Siegfried, too, but it Thomas isn't bad at all. Wotan is halved, as well. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is tested by the Rheingold Wotan, but he passes the test with flying colors, creating a detailed portrait of the ambitious, selfish god. Thomas Stewart, in the other two operas, is even better. Even though Hans Hotter is both richer and more beautiful of voice and more detailed of portrayal, Fischer-Dieskau and Stewart present magnificent Wotans. Zoltan Kelemen as Alberich is all you could ask for - sinister, cruel, ambitious and evil. The bass roles are split between Martti Talvela (Fasolt, Hunding) and Karl Ridderbusch (Fafner, Hagen). Ridderbusch at first might seem an odd choice for Hagen, because his voice is dark and thunderous, but not black and menacing. However, this adds another dimension to his masterful portrayal of the incredibly evil villain - an evil nobility - that makes his performance that much more compelling. He is a fabulous Hagen. He sings Fafner vividly and Talvela makes the most of his two roles. Jon Vickers is splendidly heroic and lyrical as Siegmund, and Gundula Janowitz uses her gorgeous, radiant lyric soprano to produce a beautiful Sieglinde and Gutrune. Oralia Dominguez is beautiful as Erda, and the Rhinemaidens, Valkyries and Norns are all excellent. Josephine Veasey is a bitingly intense Fricka, and Gerhard Stolze sings Loge and the Siegfried Mime with amazing powers of characterization. DG's remastering for its Originals series is extremely successful: the sound is natural and there is almost no tape hiss. The packaging is extremely beautiful, worthy of this masterful recording. When all is said and done, a fair listener is likely to conclude that of all the available Ring Cycles, this Karajan cycle is the one to buy."
A gorgeous and impressive Ring of cosmic dimensions
The Cultural Observer | 10/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If fate had it that Furtwangler were to live slightly longer, I would have relied on the conductor's great skill to conduct a Ring that will rule all other subsequent recordings of the opera. Unfortunately, his La Scala Ring, despite the casting of great Wagner veterans and a marvelously conducted orchestra, has several cuts plus not very good sound. His RAI ring, on the other hand, boasts better sound, but slightly inferior singers and a less than adequate orchestra. For me, I think the most important aspect in Wagner, much more so than the singers, is the orchestra itself. Most of the trilogy (Wagner coined it as such, desiring for Das Rheingold to be a prelude) is dominated by long, flowing stretches of music, and if you don't have a great conductor with an amazing orchestra to guide you, then you will be sorely disappointed. Furtwangler was a magnificent Wagner conductor, and he knew the art of "epicizing" the Ring to the fullest extent, unlike Solti who saw it as a vehicle for bombast and musical chaos. The only drawback is...Furtwängler DIED.

If we looked back into history and saw the relationship between Furtwangler and a certain K who was soon to take over the Berlin Philharmonic upon the aging conductor's death in 1954, we would find it quite hilarious that Wilhelm and K had a thick cloud of tension hovering in betweent them. Furtwangler loathed K with a passion, and he would never refer to him by name, using the phrase "that man K." Surely, there was something in this K that made the great Wagnerian Furtwangler feel threatened in the podium. And you know what? There was.

I think beyond any other Wagnerian conductor in history, Karajan made the greatest impression on the recordings and performances he conducted during his lifetime. Karajan knew the dynamics of a Wagnerian orchestra perfectly and used this to his advantage to create a cascading waterfall of some of the world's greatest music. His Tristan und Isolde, in my opinion, surpasses Furtwangler's recording in many aspects. His Meistersinger reigns supreme, his live Tannhauser is a revelation, his Parsifal truly is a mystical recording to behold, his Dutchman highly energizing, and most of all, his Ring, without a doubt, is the most beautiful and most moving trilogy I've ever heard.

It took me a great length of time upon which Ring I must herald as the greatest, because surely, Solti, Furtwangler, Krauss, Knappertsbusch, Böhm, and many others had a say on this epic. None of them though, except Furtwängler, could be placed beside Karajan in his great vision of what is considered to be the greatest work of art in the history of music. Many would praise the Solti Ring as a classic, and on this matter I would concede with the majority. He does create a great Ring, but I cannot agree entirely with his vision. The music doesn't flow like the way I think it should, and if you were to compare Karajan's work with Solti's, there is no parallel. Karajan's cast is just as seasoned as Solti's and in many ways surpasses them in interpretation. His brilliant choice of the youthful Crespin and the sexy, voluptuous-sounding Dernesch as his Brunnhildes creates a shifting portrayal of the woman and the warrior and the lover that is our favorite Valkyrie, and both singers display more emotion than Birgit Nilsson does. Jess Thomas suits the young, brash Siegfried, while Helge Brilioth recreates a mature, more insightful hero in the Gotterdammerung Siegfried. Dieskau is a marvel as Wotan, in the rank of London, while the highly underrated Stewart, in my opinion, is musically and interpretively, the equal of Hotter. Gundula Janowitz is a marvel as Sieglinde, the greatest I've ever heard, and Jon Vickers is the most touching Siegmund on record. Christa Ludwig gives an even better portrayal of Waltraute (and her second Norn is amazing!) than in Solti's recording. Gerhard Stolze gives a greater interpretation of the Mime, and Karl Ridderbusch and Zoltan Kelemen make their bass roles extremely believable. The minor roles of the Valkyries and the Rhine Maidens all receive amazing singers. It is indeed a great cast, and in many ways surpasses that of Solti's use of veteran singers past their prime. In my opinion, Karajan's cast gives a most human and moving portrayal.

Many would disagree with me in agreeing with Herbert's vision for this grand opera. I think that for theater to exist, the music must come first to create that certain atmosphere which makes the element come to life. Solti may have some of the best singers, but his tempo lacks the fluidity of Karajan. He has a great recording in his hands, but then I would prefer Karajan for the atmosphere he creates. So they say that Karajan lacks a sense of theater and goes only for the surface beauty of the work. He does create a Ring brimming with surface beauty, but if you listen to his music attentively, you will find that within each bar, each orchestral nuance, there is a deeper philosophical meaning that Wagner intended to bring out of the great Teutonic legend, and I think Karajan achieved that vision.

If I were to choose only one Ring, I would buy either this and Solti's, and thankfully I have both. If I were to look for another Ring though, I would steer you towards the great live recordings of the past. The silver medal would go to the 1966 Bayreuth Ring so marvelously conducted by Karl Böhm with a very similar cast. Levine's recording with the Met Orchestra is another ode to beauty and great singing, and you'll probably never hear a more convincing, more carefully sculpted picture of Wotan than James Morris. Never mind the inconsistencies in Behrens' magnificent yet underpowered Brünnhilde or Goldberg's sometimes focused Siegfried. Everyone else in that Ring is excellent. But you really must listen to the beauties of Furtwängler's Rings from La Scala and RAI. Still, Karajan's Ring is a great Ring, full of transparency and beauty that I wouldn't part with it.
Visionary recording by Karajan
Jeroen Cox | 01/05/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Karajan disliked his work on the ring to be referred to as Kammermusik and rightly so. I think he has managed to portray a very smart approach to this enormous work. Rather than try to impress with a hugely blasting orchestra - he keeps the music transparent and dynamic. When selecting the Ring to buy last summer - I was initially tempted to buy the Solti, but in direct comparison with Karajan, I felt that the latter was far more subtle and transparent. Of course, Nilsen is impressive in e.g. Walkure, which I think has to do with the traditional interpretation of lead singers having to compete directly with the orchestra. I was already familiar with some of Karajan's great opera recordings (e.g. Tosca, La Boheme, Adia etc.) and was pleased to find out his tremendous feel for accompanying singers and maintaining orchestral balance was here as well. If you allow listening without prejudice or bias for 'tradition', this recording sounds very natural. I regret that the talent of Decca's John Culshaw was not available for this recording. Buy Solti if you are a great fan of some of the singers - but don't be overimpressed by his orchestration. Finally on the changing cast - Karjan was very deliberate on his selection of singers. In addition, I learned that the role of e.g. Wotan clearly changes as the Ring progresses and therefore different singers per part can be justifiable. Final selection tip: rather than listen to the whole thing - pick some favorite passages per part and compare two versions - it took me two hours to decide on the version to take."