Top positive review
100 people found this helpful
A Great Source of Enjoyment - Best Low-Price Ring
on 11 June 2001
This is likely to be the only review of this for a while, so I'll try to paint a full picture, 'warts and all'.
This recording of Der Ring des Nibelungen is one of the biggest surprises I've had in collecting recordings of the Ring (eleven to date). There is a great deal to recommend it, not least of which is the incredible price. Just to confirm - this is the complete Ring, not highlights.
Here's why I like it:
Orchestral playing: the Badische Staatskapelle is lighter in weight than the average Wagner orchestra, and the sheer reduction in noise (though never by too much: they turn out some fantastically powerful climaxes) means that orchestral parts which are almost always drowned out in other recordings are here visible as clear and interesting entities. A lot of pleasure can be derived from this alone.
Conducting: Neuhold gives a clear dramatic interpretation of the music. He has managed to extract singing and playing that is almost universally in tune /in time, and his clear dramatic vision is very effectively brought off. The set has a very good 'live' atmosphere, but the quality and accuracy of the playing is fantastic. Comparing the accuracy of this orchestral playing /singing with other live recordings (some with much more famous and 'lasting' singers), this recording is matched only by the Bayreuth recording by Krauss made in '53. The quality of the main singers, is, of course, not quite the same.
Singing: Brunnhilde: Carla Pohl would never be a star Brunnhilde, but her performance is committed and vocally strong. She lacks a certain heroic core, but she delivers all the notes and gives a very convincing, if not eternally memorable, performance which is hard to fault on specifics.
Wotan: John Wegner has one of those hard wood-like voices which never seem to tire-out. His Wotan is commanding and powerful, somewhat reminiscent of Ferdinand Franz of the Furtwangler recordings for its solidity, but Wegner has a greatly superior musicality and offers some of the most beautiful singing on the set. His lyricism is reminiscent of Thomas Stewart on the Karajan Ring, though the it is overall not as imaginative or thoughtful. Musically, however, it's splendid. His final Scene in Siegfried is just mind-blowing, especially with Neuhold's rapid and very colourful conducting.
Siegfried: There are two Siegfrieds on this set (Wolfgang Neumann and Edward Cook)- both are real Wagner tenors who are, again, not exactly the greatest of the century, but, especially Neumann in Siegfried, are nevertheless exuberant and memorable, as well as vocally sure, though here indeed in Siegfried is where we see why they would never be among the best of the best: Neumann has some trouble smashing his way though the forging scene in Act I, but although he may sound a bit breathless by the end, he delivers a solid and intelligent performance right through to the end of the night.
Alberich: One of the finest on record. Oleg Bryjak's Alberich is a chilling account with great vocal stamina and dramatic intensity. His performance in Rheingold is truly wonderful: his portrayal mixes a horrifying dramatic intensity with fine musicality.
Siegmund and Sieglinde (Edward Cook and Gabriele Maria Ronge): a marvellous pair for the roles, especially Ronge, who is somewhat reminiscent of a Deborah Polaski or Ann Evans. Cook tends to tire-out somewhat, but he never fails at the right moments and his characterisation is endearing and believable. Ronge's Sieglinde is one of urgency and convincing vocal power. Their Act I is full of energy and a warm atmosphere of spring.
Among the remainder of the cast almost all are more than satisfactory, with the exception of Froh, who is truly appaling, but who mercifully has probably less than a minute of singing over the fifteen hour cycle. I heard someone refer to the Rhinemaidens on this recording as being a bit 'ragged', and although I think that is a bit harsh, there is some truth to it.
The sound is DDD, 'live'. In general, there is practically no stage noise at all. Throughout the whole set I heard three coughs! That's absolutely nothing compared to the loud hacking and spluttering you get on many live recordings. The only noise you get from the audience is tumultuous applause at the end of each act. The phenomenon of singers' voices breaking off as they travel around the stage towards or away from the microphones seems entirely to have been overcome by the sound engineers. There is a very good balance between the orchestra and singers (see note on the size of the orchestra, above), and the orchestral parts are brought through with clarity and a lot of 'colour'. There is a very slight weakness in the volume of sound, but turning up the volume on the Hi-Fi just a bit more than usual does the trick perfectly.
The set comes boxed in a rather ugly package, and contains a complete libretto in German, and a brief synopsis in English, but no translation of the libretto.
In short, this is the cheapest Ring on the market, and it ranks in the top four or so of my collection of eleven complete recordings. I would definitely recommend it as a first recording, or as an addition to any collection. Neuhold's is a very listenable and rewarding interpretation which has been excellently and accurately performed, and successfully recorded with very good DDD sound. This is no second-class Ring.