When The Golden Ring
was aired on the BBC in 1965, it was the longest music documentary ever made. And though now Humphrey Burton's 90-minute black and white film about Georg Solti's landmark recording of Gotterdammerung
seems rather rough and naïve in its use of basic documentary techniques, the excitement it conveys about the gargantuan Ring
cycle project is still palpable. Underlings scuttle about, engineers endlessly fiddle with knobs, and Decca producer John Culshaw oversees the largest recording project ever undertaken with the command of a great military general. The technical insights are fascinating: all the sound mixing has to be done immediately, for instance, and echo effects are created by placing certain instruments in different rooms with closed-circuit TV cameras giving them Solti's beat. Culshaw's legendary attention to detail is also noted: he had obsolete stierhorns made especially for Hagen's call to the Gibichung vassals.
Burton's documentary style is a little awkward, and his use of cut-aways and fades now seems antiquated. But he is sensible enough to allow generous portions of the music to speak for themselves, and the closing scene--Birgit Nilsson singing Brunnhilde's immolation--is simply heart-stopping. Despite the roughness, this film undoubtedly still captures one of the greatest moments in the history of classical music recording.
On the DVD: The Golden Ring, as you might expect from a 1965 documentary, has patchy sound and picture quality (from a mixture of video and 16mm film). Occasionally the tape seems to splinter a little and the microphones fail to catch certain conversations with clarity. But somehow it all adds to the raw excitement and doesn't detract from the subject matter. The DVD also includes 69 minutes of audio highlights from the final recording.--Warwick Thompson
DVD Special Features:
Bonus feature: 69 minutes of audio highlights from Solti's Ring in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Menu Languages: English, German
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Soundtrack: AC3 Digital Mono English, German (Audio highlights Dolby Digital 5.1) Region: NTSC 1,2,3,4,5,6