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There is STILL no better sounding Ring Cycle-and the balance is now perfect!
on 27 January 2012
So much has been written about this epic set in the last 50 years that there is very little anyone can add. Those of us who first encountered these ground breaking recordings in the era of vinyl LP will remember the excitement as each instalment was released. No sooner had the Solti cycle been completed with Die Walkure, than the Karajan cycle was under way commencing with the same work. The critical phrases most common then were "Ecstatic Dynamism" for Solti, and "Lyrical Cosmos " for Karajan-make of that what you will, but it's not a bad description.
For me, the Ecstatic Dynamism won the day, and even after all these years, though many fine Ring Cycles have become available, none sounds better than this one. I would say that for anyone exploring this musical colossus, there are 2 essential sets-Solti and Bohm. The Keilberth Ring is more for connoisseurs as the sound is amazing for its age, and the performances no less amazing, but it must still be classed as "historic"-and expensive.
The set has never sounded as marvellous as in this latest 20 bit re-mastering, which necessitated using some different "takes" in the restoration as the original master tapes had perished in places.
The main point I wish to make is to confound the criticism that the balance is artificial. I was lucky enough to attend a cycle under Runnicles in the Vienna State Opera in 2000, and have been to individual performances under various conductors since.
The sound is UNCANNILY true to what one hears in good seats in the First Tier of that great house-yes, the singers do occasionally get swamped by the orchestra (though not Gabrielle Schnaut's Brunnhilde!), but if I close my eyes while listening to the recordings, I can happily imagine I am in a live performance.
Richard Strauss among others believed that Wagner, and the Ring in particular, was better served in a traditional proscenium set-up as opposed to the sunken Bayreuth pit, and this set now captures that ambience as near perfectly as makes no difference.
A strong case can be made for saying that this is the most significant recording in the history of Opera Recording, and if I were reduced to owning just one cycle (I think I've got all the stereo recordings and many mono recordings too), it would be this one. Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe