This must have been one of the first classical CDs I ever bought for myself (in its original Erato incarnation from 1992). It was my first real outing into the spacious, colourful and deeply emotional soundworld of Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen and I am glad I 'stumbled' upon this recording, and not any other, because it is exactly what I expect of this music, looking back upon hearings of other performances of this music by other orchestras and conductors. It made me begin to love Wagner's 'Ring' and wanting for more.
Barenboim makes the music sound approprately massive and stately, but at the same time does he maintain a sound that is clear and fresh. A grand but clear-headed, transparent vision. A Parthenon or a Pantheon in music.
His tempi are generally exactly right for my own taste: not too fast but always pressing along with the right amount of dramatic tension. This recording was made at exactly the same time that Barenboim was conducting the Ring in Bayreuth, and those performances, captured magnificently on CD (and recently also - at last! - available on DVD), also catch (maybe even beter) Barenboim's superb feel for clarity and drama.
On this recording, all instruments are placed in a clear and finely balanced soundpicture, with enough depth and just a little - but I would like to say just the right amount of - reverberation. As if sitting in the front rows nearest to the orchestra. Instrumental playing is finely acute and could be characterized as 'thoughtful': there is a lot of thinking going on here (by orchestra as well as conductor) about the dramatic meaning of the notes.
Recapitulating, I think this is an honest, largely unadorned, clear-headed, but at the same time grand vision of Wagner's music that does not revel in the music for its own sake, but above all things lets the music speak as a purely dramatic narrative. And in the end, honesty is the best policy...