A good set, but I'd have to give the nod to '53
Into | everywhereandnowhere | 03/01/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I am about five years past the "Wagner mania" that possessed me through the last few years of the old milennium; but about once a year, or so, I return to the opuses of the pompous windbag who nonetheless created some of the most beautiful music in the history of western civilization...and whose egomaniacal opinions stirred up so much crap from about the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth.
After twelve complete traversals of the Ring on audio and video, I mostly listen to just my favorite parts now. There are some parts I can barely stand to listen to anymore, i.e. Wotan's long-winded rants at Brunnhilde in Die Walkure (Furtwangler took a couple of cuts in Wotan's act 2 monologue/diatribe, and if there was ever a place where this kind of editing might be justified, that may be it!), and the Norn scene at the beginning of Gotterdamerung, among others.
I bought the Golden Melodram version of Keilberth's 1953 Bayreuth Ring about six years ago, and am consistently amazed by it...but some people say his '52 ring is even better. My instincts told me that it made more sense that Keilberth's second Bayreuth Ring would be more steady than his first, esp. with excellent performances by Windgassen as Siegfried, and Hotter's Wotan about as good as it gets...but, as is frequently the case, my curiosity got the best of me, so upon finding a very cheap copy of the Archipel pressing of the 1952 Ring, I figured I couldn't go wrong. I am glad I was able to hear the '52 Ring because it made me appreciate the '53 Ring all the more.
Comparing Bayreuth recordings is often as exasperating as it is fun and fascinating: quirky sound balances and stage sounds; the ubiquitous coughing by the tourists summering in Bayreuth; the occasional "clinker" from the horns in the pit, and the sometimes frustrating tradeoffs in singers, i.e. "Damn, if I could only switch Varnay in '52 with Modl from '53!"
Keilberth's '53 Ring is an absolutely amazing recording for the period. There were about three times when it was so vivid that when Windgassen or Modl would suddenly get closer to the mike, it actually startled me a bit. I think the performances are consistently better (has Hotter ever sounded better?), and while Varnay would probably have been preferable, Modl turns in a very good performance. The balance of voices and orchestra is also one of the best on record, regardless of era. I also like Keilberth's pacing better in the '53 Ring. The '52 Ring is one of the fastest on record, about a half hour faster--which over the entire span of the Ring isn't really a lot--than '53, but I think the pacing overall is more masterly in the latter. There are some cartoonishly fast speeds in the 1952 performance, such as the beginning of Wotan's Farewell; yet, curiously, Siegfried's forging song is noticeably slower than in '53: I couldn't help but wonder if Windgassen--the only Siegfried in the 1953 Ring--was able to handle the faster tempo better than Aldenhoff in '52 (Lorenz was Siegfried in the '52 Gotterdamerung). In any case, Windgassen is much more heroic and firm in Siegfried than Aldenhoff.
The two 1953 Bayreuth Rings, Krauss and Keilberth, are my two favorite live rings, and at least Varnay is the Brunnhilde in the Krauss ring. The recording engineer really had it going in '53, a banner year for Bayreuth, and there were some great performances that year, too. Hopefully, the '53 Keilberth Ring will get reissued soon, at a lower price than the Melodram, but if you see it used, for about $100-$125, grab it!"
TREASURE DISCOVERED !
William C. Norvell, Jr. | Houston, Texas | 08/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have many versions of Der Ring. This one is my latest discovery, and it is, indeed, a total, complete surprise ! What a find! First, the sound, although not in stero, is very good for the time, and especially for a live performance. Das Rheingold has a slight acoustics problem in that the singers sound as though they are in a deep well, but this is cleared up considerably in the following operas. The set features Hans Hotter ( Wotan) and Astrid Varnay ( Brunnhilde). Hotter is known to me primarily as the Wanderer of the first recorded Ring, for London records. By then, Hotter was way past his prime. However, this set brings out Hotter in his absolute prime. What a beautiful and dramatic interpretation of Wotan/Wanderer! In fact, I rate it as the best of all time ! Varnay is also found in tip top form. I rate her performance here also as the very best of all time ( that's saying a lot !). Keilberth's conducting is just excellent at every turn, bringing out all the majesty and drama of this work. The orchestra responds in golden Bayreuth tones that are perfect in every respect. As one listens to this RIng, it just gets better and better as it goes along. There's not a soft spot at all in any of the casting. If you want to hear Der Ring like it was done at Bayreuth in the original Richard Wagner manner, this is the set for you. If you are buying your first set, this is the one for you ( forget the lack of stereo: it just doesn't matter). If you haven't heard this set, you haven't heard the best interpretation of The Ring, EVER !"