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Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (Decca Collectors Edition) Box set
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This complete set of the Ring Cycle (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung) made during live performances in Wagner's theatre at Bayreuth, remains one of the greatest 'Rings' on record. Legendary Wagner singers Theo Adam as Wotan and Birgit Nilsson as Brühnnhilde lead an outstanding cast in this fast-moving and dramatic reading by conductor Karl Böhm. The set includes a new booklet essay by George Hall.
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Yes Nilsson's performance demonstrates her flawless command, however I hear little emotional or psycological depth. Wingassen sounds tired, teo adam uninvolved.
However they are all let down in my view by Bohm's musical direction.
The Ring should sound mysterious, psychologically complex.
Bohm is too perfunctory and I find his reading superficial here. The orchestra is as much a character in the Ring as the cast, arguably more so.
One should hear what is really going on, under the surface of the text and action, through the orchestra, and I only hear the notes being played.
Its all surface.
For greater psychological and emotional charge and complexity, I turn to any of the Bayreuth recordings from the 1950's, and there, to me, is the Ring, and it is a shattering and profound experience.
There are flaws and drawbacks as with all live recordings, but fewer than with other live Rings-the prompter/repetiteur being all too often audible (just!) is a minor distraction, but Wieland Wagner's New Bayreuth productions were static, more like tableaux set against huge abstract sets with litlle scene changing-the result is less stage noise than on other recordings. The recording is very natural, with none of the dubious engineering of the Barenboim set where the voices are in a resonant acoustic totally alien to Bayreuth, and it is actually better recorded than the later Boulez. The Thielemann is similar in sound quality, but not in performance-avoid.
A few myths should be dispelled-Windgassen is a SUPERB Loge, wheedling, guileful and POWERFUL by turns-a real tour de force. Theo Adam is a SUPERB Wotan on this set-many of his later performances on disc were well-sung but dull-his Sachs for Karajan comes to mind-but here he excels in every way-strong characterisation, beautifully sung. He sounds youthful and virile in Rheingold, and more mature in his ,for me, superb Wanderer. Adam usually gets slated in comparison to Hotter-Hotter was not THAT great, and by the early 60's he was getting by on audience fond memory-his voice had developed a raggedness and wobble that made it torture to listen to, at least for me, one of the many reasons I do not rate the Knappertsbusch Parsifal as highly as others-but enough of Hotter, he had retired from these roles by 1967. Listen without prejudice and you will find Adam superb. James King is arguably the finest recorded Siegmund , at least in this recording, of the stereo era (Melchior is incomparable overall) and would that we had his like today.If Vickers was more impassioned for Karajan and Leinsdorf, then King is at least as heroic with steadier tone and less crooning. There is general conscensus that this is Nilsson's finest hour and she is indeed incomparably superb, and if Windgassen has to husband his resources a little more at this age, it is fascinating to hear him do so with such excellent results in his outstanding reading of Siegfried.He often sounds fuller and fresher than even on the 1955 set. The remaining cast is as if from a dream, with generally luxury casting for the minor roles, Neidlinger and Greindl as implacable and incomparable as ever, and even Thomas Stewart , by then already a great Wotan , giving us a superb Gunther. One weak link is Dvorakova as Gutrune,who starts off sounding too heavy of voice and who screams and wobbles alarmingly at times especially in her solo scene. Ironically, when this production premiered in 1965, the solo scene with Gutrune following Siegfried's death was cut-yes there are cuts even in the Temple of Wagner-but was restored the next year following the tsunami of vituperation that engulfed Wieland and Bohm for sanctioning it.Pity that Dvorakova-a fine singer who actually sang Brunnhilde in one of the 3 cycles in 66 &67 and was loved for this role in London -was way off form for this recording. Marha Modl's Waltaute is wobbly but dramatically strong but these are really the only major vocal glitches and are not catastrophic.
When I said this was not my absolute favourite recording, I am referring to hair's breadth preferences-in fact as I write this review, I begin to wonder if maybe it IS after all!
For those wanting to add to their collection, approaching the Ring anew, or wishing to experience a "Golden Age" of Wagner performing but without the sonic deficiencies-or cost-of the Keilberth, this is the absolute top recommendation. At this paltry price, ALL music lovers who do not own the set already should buy it without hesitation. Unlimited stars. Stewart Crowe.
The 14 discs are in plain paper envelopes in a solid card box. There is no libretto (that would be a miracle at this price) instead Decca provide a reasonably detailed seven-and-a-half page synopsis with cue points. The much vaunted 'new essay by George Hall' is a pitiful two-page blurb about Bohm and the main singers and their relationship with the music of Wagner and Bayreuth. But at this price I'm not complaining!
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