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4.5 out of 5 stars
Der Ring Des Nibelungen Comp
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Showing 1-10 of 14 reviews(4 star)show all reviews
on March 24, 2004
I feel that the tempo, casting and general style of Solti's Ring is great. The performances and the quality of recording are of a particularly high standard. Of course there is Nilsson but I think Gerhard Stolz is great, as Mime, as Aegithus in Solti's 'Elektra', as Herod in Solti's 'Salome'. He always plays the revolting characters with great drammatic effect.
For me the first act of Siegfried embodies all that is great in Solti's Ring Cycle, appropriately paced with the drammatic tension created by the discourse between Siegfried and Mime keeping you totally hooked.
Solti's Ring also has problems. When it comes to the big scores such as 'Ride of the Walkyries', 'Siegfried's Funeral March' (in particular) and the finale to Twilight of the Gods, Solti's bombastic style can be quite irritating.
He seems to have a habit of placing undue emphasis on the brass which has the effect of drowning out the strings. Such pieces are played too loudly and lack subtlety. 'Siegfried's funeral march' for me is particularly disappointing. Indeed I have noticed a trend in many of Solti's works to drown out the strings; 'Salome' and 'Elektra' for example. The orchestral emphasis (in particular on brass)in these recordings serves to make it difficult to discern the lyrics.
So, in some respects I think this is a brilliant recording but for the big scores Solti completely messes up. Whilst I have not heard any other of the 'classic' recordings I would imagine Bohm's rendition is worth its salt if his 'Tristan und Isolde' is anything to go by. I feel that Bohm produces a better orchestral balance than Solti on the whole.
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Simply reviewing this recording is beating a dead horse, but I thought I'd join the fun anyway. Critics and listeners will always debate what is the "greatest Ring," and of what is on the market today, there is no single recording that captures even the majority of people. It really is a matter of preferance.
With that said, one must consider the pros and cons of each recording, and decide based on what matters the most to each individual who looks into making this $$$+ purchase, so here are a few things I like and don't like about this recording. Again, you might disagree with my opinions, but pay attention, at least, to the items I highlight and sample each recording w/ them in mind before buying.
What I like: This recording contains quite a mix in generations. You have Flagstad at the end of her career and Ludwig, Ficher-Dieskau, Sutherland, and Nilsson in their primes. Solti's career is taking off at this time, and of course the orchestra is no disappointment (it is the Vienna Philharmonic, after all). The authenticity of the orchestra is worth mentioning (the steerhorns in Gotterdammering being a completely unique feature, considereing they had to reinvent the instrument just for this recording).
Now for my dislikes: Hans Hotter just sounds bad! That is strictly my opinion, but to me, there is simply no beauty in his voice, which makes listening to him painful. I wish London would have played the entire recording. He is my only critisism for the cast. The other big thing I do not like is the effects. These are purely a matter of taste, but to me they just sound superfluous and annoying.
Other than that, I have little else to say. The key is to sample before you buy, since there are just so many things to like and dislike about a 14 CD collection.
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on February 16, 2003
The Solti "Ring" is often reviewed as though it were a single recording. Of course it isn't; it's four opera recordings, made over a period of eight years. Each recording was a separate project, and inevitably, some are better than others. They all share Solti's nervous, energetic approach to Wagner; it certainly doesn't sound like the "long line" approach to Wagner, and is often criticized on that basis. But there's more than one way to conduct a masterpiece, and Solti's approach justifies itself with its sense of drama and musical storytelling; it's as valid an approach as any other, and superbly executed by the Vienna Philharmonic and the sound engineers.
"Rheingold" shook up the recording industry in 1959 with its advances in sound quality and its huge sales. While the sound is still impressive today, the cast has been surpassed on later recordings. Essentially it's a good, solid Vienna repertory cast of the late '50s, with the exception of Flagstad's cameo as Fricka -- which, to be honest, is not all that great. The best thing on the recording is the Alberich of Gustav Neidlinger.
"Walkure" was the last of these operas to be recorded, and the sessions were interrupted by conflicts with the orchestra; this perhaps contributed to Hans Hotter sounding considerably less than his best as Wotan. The set is still worthwhile, especially for Regine Crespin's Sieglinde, the starry lineup of Valkyries, and Christa Ludwig's Fricka. But there are many recordings of "Walkure," and some of them are preferable to this one.
"Siegfried" also had troubled sessions, mainly because the original Siegfried, Ernst Kozub, was fired for having failed to learn the part properly. Wolfgang Windgassen was the only other possible choice at the time, and while his voice was hardly ideal, he's probably better than anyone who has recorded the role since then. Hotter is better here than in "Walkure," and everyone else is fine. This is probably a first choice for this opera, but you'll have to hear the old Melchior recordings to hear a really ideally-sung Siegfried.
"Gotterdammerung" is by far the best in Solti's cycle, and, not coincidentally, had the most trouble-free sessions. This is one of those rare opera recordings where everything went right; there are no weak links in this cast (from the stars right down to young soon-to-be-stars like Lucia Popp and Helen Watts) and the use of sound effects and stereo staging creates a truly theatrical experience even without visuals.
So if you're buying just one recording in Solti's "Ring," make it "Gotterdammerung." If you want to buy the "Ring" under a single conductor, Solti's is probably the best bet (the weakest parts aren't as bad as, say, the weakest parts of Karajan's or Levine's "Ring"s). Otherwise, get "Gotterdammerung" and possibly "Siegfried," and then get "Walkure" by Karajan or Leinsdorf, and "Rheingold" by Karajan or Levine.
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on January 23, 2003
Solti's really is an "exciting" set, intense, dramatic, effect-after-effect, with a thrilling star-studded cast. In how many places Solti changes the tempo abruptly to surprise you! In how many scenes you hear artificial sound effects! To pursue dramatic effect, he even alters the score -- the brass in the measure right before Bruennhilde sings "Zu neuen Taten..." in the Goetterdaemmerung Prelude!! They(Solti and Culshaw) want you to listen for the string at this time and the brass at another. Alas! How exciting! I wish such a stunning cast as this set's could have been placed under a more understanding conductor than Sir Solti storming in the climax and sweeping through the subtlety. I feel this set cannot sustain repeated listening, because eventually I would get bored with those effects or surprises. This is not what Wagner is supposed to be(or he would have been another Meyerbeer).
Boehm, Furtwaengler, Karajan, Krauss show me how wonderful Wagner's music is, while Solti keeps reminding me of his presence. Is this a wonderful set? Yes, absolutely. Is it Wagner? Well, it is Wagner overpowered.
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on January 23, 2003
Solti's really is an "exciting" set, intense, dramatic, effect-after-effect, with a thrilling star-studded cast. In how many places Solti changes the tempo abruptly to surprise you! In how many scenes you head artificial sound effects! To pursue dramatic effect, he even alters the score -- the brass in the measure right before Bruennhilde sings "Zu neuen Taten..." in the Goetterdaemmerung Prelude!! They(Solti and Culshaw) want you to listen for the string at this time and the brass at another. Alas! How exciting! I wish such a stunning cast as this set's could have been placed under a more understanding conductor than Sir Solti storming in the climax and sweeping through the subtlety. I feel this set cannot sustain repeated listening, because eventually I would get bored with those effects or surprises. This is not what Wagner is supposed to be(or he would have been another Meyerbeer).
Boehm, Furtwaengler, Karajan, Krauss show me how wonderful Wagner's music is, while Solti keeps reminding me of his presence. Is this a wonderful set? Yes, absolutely. Is it Wagner? Well, it is Wagner overpowered.
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on April 16, 2000
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.
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on March 24, 2000
Most people feel one way or the other about this cycle: it's either the greatest of the greatest or hopelessly overrated. I fall somewhere between these positions but find more things to like than dislike. I find that Solti's reading scores high marks in the dramatic/heroic sections but falls short in the lyrical ones. Das Rheingold is a good performance, and he at least avoids letting the music drag. In my view it is not a great opera - below Lohengrin even - but he makes a good case for it. George London's Wotan is not as distinguished as Hotter's later in the cycle, but is at least as good as Theo Adam on the Bohm cycle. Gustav Neidlinger as Alberich is in a class of his own in this role. Kirsten Flagstad as Fricka is superb of course, and the rest of the cast performs well. I find Die Walkure a bit of a hit and miss affair, Act I starts like a house on fire but the end of it is only good, both vocally and orchestrally. James King in the role of Siegmund is no match for Jon Vickers in Karajan's cycle. Act II goes better, and Act III starts off like a bang again but is somewhat dissapointing at the end. I find Nilsson's Brunnhilde somewhat piercing, say compared to Hildegard Behrens for Levine, but still a respectable performance in terms of accuracy and power. Hotter as Wotan is not on the same form as he was for Hans Knappertsbusch at Bayreuth in the 1957 Ring, but is still very good and strongly characterized. Listen to how he sings "...freier, als ich, der Gott." during the Farewell, he refrains from underlining too crudely on the last word, which is appropriate as that word is punctuated by the orchestra with a pizzicato (plucked) note on the strings. The orchestral interlude which immediately follows this, one of the most famous moments in the opera, reveals the conductor's lack of mastery of control of rhythm in the original score. Wagner's writing itself is a bit squarish in meter and needs very subtle control of phrasing to give the melody enough prominence to cover the faults in the rhythm. Solti takes a pause or near-pause right before the loudest point in this section, which is enough to break the "unending" melodic line in the music. Karajan managed this transition more successfully.
Siegfried is on the whole a successful performance, with Acts I and III having great thrust but Act II not having quite enough lyricism in the forest music to provide sufficient contrast. I wish this opera was about an hour shorter (some wags would say 4 hours). Windgassen as Siegfried sings correctly and dramatically, but his voice is not very beautiful. Gerhard Stolze as Mime is outstanding, not overdoing the role one bit. Nilsson sings very powerfully again, as if she was indeed very well rested. Joan Sutherland in the small role of the Woodbird provides balm for the ear after a good two and a half hours of heroic male singing.
Gotterdammerung is also a fine performance, and apart from my earlier reservations about Windgassen and Nilsson, has an amazingly strong cast, right down to the three Rhinemaidens. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Gunther deserves special recognition. Again Solti makes all the dramatic points tell, and the big moments in Acts I and III are memorable, except for the same lack of subtle control of rhythm in the finale of the Immolation of the Gods. Solti's pause before the final statement of the Assurance motif on the strings is well known here, but having read the score, to the best of my knowledge, there is no such pause or rest indicated. At this same point in Karajan's performance when the woodwinds, brass and percussion fade to silence at the end of a forte fortissimo section, the strings come in without the continuous flow of music being interrupted.
The orchestral playing is superb throughout the cycle and it is good to have every single instrument called for in the score - some 124 instruments plus additional ones for effect where required - such as 8 harps, 20 anvils, etc. The use of the steerhorn, with its indeterminate pitch, in Act II of Gotterdammerung for the summoning of the Vassals is absolutely right and adds to the coarseness, rawness and earthiness of the scene which follows. I approve of the John Culshaw production noises, although others may not, for the sake of adding to the dramatic interpretation. The engineering and balancing between voices and orchestra has always been exemplary. The Sofiensaal in Vienna was an ideal venue for this project. Deryck Cooke's commentary is the epitome of intelligent musicology. The packaging and presentation is handsome and tasteful. All in all, it's still a good Ring.
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on January 14, 2000
The Ring concists of four very long opers (Das Rheingold considerably shorter though), it contanes many very difficult major roles and offers almost everything that an opera and a stagepiece can offer. For such a work there is no one single perfect recording. I have mixed feelings towards this set. It's very good, and a must-have for all Wagnerians, but has in my opinion one serious flaw: Die Walkure. Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung are brilliant and Siegfried is truly among the very best, although not above others. Solti is one of my favorite conductors and a great Wagnerian. But his Walkure is undoubtly his poorest Wagner recording he made. It's in no way on the same high standard as the other Ring opers or Tannhauser. The orchestra is dull compared to Furtwangler, Nilson (a great soprano) is not doing what she is capable of and Hotter is a terrible Wotan. Many may be shocked to hear that about Hotter. Let me say this: Hotter (we're told by people that saw him live that he WAS Wotan) is to too old. His voice is gone and you can obviously hear his great effort. Hotter was the man...but few years erlier. Personally I'd rate all operas five stares but Die Walkure only three. And in my opinion Die Walkure is the very best opera of the whole Ring. Now we're in trouble!
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on April 16, 2002
These recordings were among the first I ever obtained as a young man, and they had a dramatic effect on my musical tastes and preferences in subsequent years. Unfortunately, they were the vinyl records, and I haven't played them in years. Only days ago, I ordered the complete set, and can't wait to get it. Nilsson's Brunnhilde has NEVER been surpassed, in my opinion. She has become, for me, like Callas for many others....a veritable Goddess! Beyond her perfect contribution to the recording, there is the very strong cast, even in minor roles that make this set special. I have heard the criticism of Solti, and the 'sonic' manipulations that were injected into this set. As far as the former is concerned, I simply don't agree. Solti, to my way of thinking, provides a near-perfect interpretation, and the Vienna Philharmonic are nothing short of superb!
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on April 16, 2002
These recordings were among the first I ever obtained as a young man, and they had a dramatic effect on my musical tastes and preferences in subsequent years. Unfortunately, they were the vinyl records, and I haven't played them in years. Only days ago, I ordered the complete set, and can't wait to get it. Nilsson's Brunnhilde has NEVER been surpassed, in my opinion. She has become, for me, like Callas for many others....a veritable Goddess! Beyond her perfect contribution to the recording, there is the very strong cast, even in minor roles that make this set special. I have heard the criticism of Solti, and the 'sonic' manipulations that were injected into this set. As far as the former is concerned, I simply don't agree. Solti, to my way of thinking, provides a near-perfect interpretation, and the Vienna Philharmonic are nothing short of superb!
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