As any other Ring cycle, Solti's has high and low points, starting at it's apex with "Rheingold" and descending ever so slightly with "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung", but sliding distinctly downwards with the heavy handed "Walküre".
The #2 on the scale, "Siegfried" is (I believe) one of the most consistant Wagner recordings ever made. There is a superlative cast, an exciting conductor, and a production team that was in the midst of a huge momentum of pushing the envelope in audio recordings.
The recording problems are now legendary, with Ernst Kozub being the original Siegfried (Windgassen was thought to be too far past his prime to be ideal), but with Kozub not being prepared, Windgassen literally stepped in at the last minute to give a commanding performance.
Windgassen was certainly no Melchior, but he was intelligent and hardworking, got along well with everyone, and the only tenor of his generation to sing all the major Wagner roles year after year. The voice is not heroic, or youthful, but Windgassen brought sensitivity and experience to the studio and created a believable three dimensional character which remains one of the best to date.
The great Hans Hotter gives a commanding performance as the Wanderer. This recording has oft been critisized for Hotter developing a wobble above the staff, but when you consider the variableness of his performances due to respiratory ailments, he is in wonderful voice (he also recorded the famous Bayreuth Parsifal and a highly acclaimed Winterreise that year). For my poor ears, Hotter stands head and shoulders above all others, his sonorous voice conveying an ethereal presence, ancient and world weary, full of vast knowledge and experience.
Gerhard Stolze has the ideal voice for the part....acidic, venomous and tremendously expressive. Unfortunately his excessive histrionics, especially in Act 2 are mar what could have been an ideal performance.
Nilsson is at her peak here. She was ill during the final scene, but sang with steely determination (a bit too steely) but with the famous lightning high notes and lovely pianissimos. She never had the velvety warmth of Flagstad, but her hugely commandinding presence is one that hasn't been seen since her retirement.
All the smaller roles Marga Höffgen as Erda, Neidlinger as Alberich and Dame Joan Sutherland complete a glorious cast of a long lost Golden Age of Wagner.
On the podium is the controversial Solti in what is one of his finest moments on record. He drives the Vienna Philharmonic to a frenzy with hair-raising results, especially for the sword forging, and Act 3 when Siegfried climbs Brünnhilde's Rock, and yet coaxes them to the most exquiset serene beauty (Forest Murmurs and just before Siegfried wakens Brünnhilde).
Siegfried is my favorite Wagner opera, and this glorious recording is the reason. Near perfection!