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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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
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VINE VOICEon 16 June 2002
Believe it or not, I first heard this version during the mid 1960s. At that time, I knew that this version was way ahead of its time, in production and performance. And now for the wonders of advance technology, digital recording, it sounds even better. Culshaw and Solti combined to produce a monumental work in performance and sound exactly as Wagner would have wanted. Hence the sound effects, and the wonderful atmosphere it generates. The singing is superb. Birgit Nilsson is a brilliant Brunnhilde, ably supported by Wolfgang Windgasson as Siegfried. In a way, I am glad this version still exists allowing a new generation of listeners an opportunity of experiencing this production. All others since have been good in their own way, but this surpasses all of them and will probably never be beaten for style and quality. Still sounds wonderful despite the fact that The Rhinegold was first recorded more than 40 years ago. Everybody who loves Opera should listen to this.
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Of the 15 or so complete Rings + numerous recordings of the separate operas that sit on my shelves, this was the first I acquired, originally bought as the sets were issued. So is it just because these were the performances from which I learnt my Ring that this is the version I still return to most often? Krauss is probably the best available performance, but the sound is fragile and friable. Windgassen and Nilsson are both more exciting in the live environment of Bohm's recording, but I'd like to shoot that prompter. Goodall is full, for me, of memories in the theatre and provides the best large-scale symphonic view, but his orchestra is good rather than great. Boulez is, as always, refreshing and elucidating, but let down by the quality of his singers.
So I keep coming back to Solti. Not perfect by any means, but still the best combination of sound, performance, interpretation and production you'll find. The casting is top-notch and often inspired - from Flagstad's first glorious Fricka in Rheingold to Fischer-Dieskau's flawed and vulnerable Gunther (he once famously described Gotterdammerung as 'a family tragedy'). Rhinemaidens, Valkyries and Norns include many a future Brunnhilde and the like - the Waldvogel is no less than Joan Sutherland!
Solti's conducting, much hailed at the time of release, has come in for increasing criticism over the years. Yes, he can be a bit hard-driven: yes, he can be too episodic: yes, he can pile pilion on ossa at some of the climaxes (though not as much as in the theatre). But he undoubtedly has a vision of the whole work which he sticks to. And he does draw the most glorious sounds and playing from the Vienna Philharmonic.
And then there's the contribution of John Culshaw and his team. The sound, even after all these years, is still about the best you can get in these works - clean and analytical but also full-bodied with masses of depth and perspective. More than a match for later studio recordings like Levine and Haitink. And the production and effects still work, too - from Rheingold's anvils to that famous distant rumble of thunder on Brunnhilde's rock that had Solti looking out of the control room window - not to mention the collapse of the Gibichung Hall; a real cartridge-tester, that, in the days of vinyl).
Put it all together and this remains the best all-round recommendation for a first Ring. 'The greatest achievement of gramophone history' it was called at the release of Gotterdammerung. Probably it still is. But I wouldn't want to be without quite a few of those other 14 versions on the shelf - it can get addictive, this Ring business.
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on 6 October 2002
This DECCA recording is still the standard by which all other Ring's should be compared. The first time I heard it 10 years ago it made the hairs on my neck stand on end. Solti and Culshaw created a truly dramatic interpretation, and its power is undiminished after countless listenings. Among the countless highlights for me are the preludes, such as the prelude to Act III of Siegfried; you can hear Wotan's desperation as he rides. The use of steerhorns in Gotterdammerung conveys perfectly the sense of impending doom for the wedding party. The performances are outstanding, especially Wolfgang Windgassen as Siegfried, who was a last minute stand-in after the preferred tenor showed no interest in singing! The background to this recording is as remarkable as the performances themselves. Stolze was extremely ill during Seigfried; there was an orhcestra revolt; Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music was recorded by completely drunken orchestra players; Birgit Nilsson refused to do Gotterdammerung at first; etc, etc. These are some of the reasons why I love this recording. Out of adversity comes great art. That is not to say this Ring is not flawed. Technically, it is superb considering its age, but I find Solti's tempo is hurried in parts where it should not be hurried, whereas other conductors such as the Met's Levine draw out the power of some motives by controlling their tempo (e.g. the Curse motive). Solti's main success is Gotterdammerung, from start to finish that music drama has not been bettered by anyone. So turn off the phone, draw the curtains, press play and get ready to be involved in a great story told with great music by great players.
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on 27 September 2005
Three stars only? For the Solti ring? Surely not? Well yes actually.
How to explain this? Solti's was the second set I brought - largely because it was so famous that I thought that I simply had to have it. The first set I acquired was a ludicrously cheap version of Furtwangler's set from Turin (with Martha Modl, Ludwig Suthaus, Ferdinand Franz et al). I really didn't know anything about the Ring at the time except a few bits that I'd heard over the years. Having it all meant that I could dip in and out and out and gradually, with the help of the ENO guides, I found my way round these astonishing works.
It's very difficult to be objective about Furtwangler. If I had to summarise what is great about him in the Ring it would be that he understands how the symphonic development of the music as a whole is allied to drama as it happens moment by moment. The sound of course is pretty terrible. The orchestra about what you'd expect from Italy in the immediate post-war period. And the singers are variable, although none is terrible and all are absolutely committed. I think the fact that each act was recorded live also helps enormously.
Years later I came to Solti. My expectations were sky high. Even on sale, it represented a considerable investment. The first thing I noticed was the sound - it was astonishing. The second thing was that no effort has been spared in trying to re-create sonic performances of the operas. And the singing is of a standard which one can only dream of hearing on stage today. And yet...
It took me a long time to work out what i didn't like about Solti. Firstly I thought that it was all about highlighting the climaxes at the expense of the whole. Actually I think this still pertains, although there are numerous felicitous touches: the depth of the oar strokes made by the hero in the Rhinefahrt in Gotterdammerung is but one of many.
Then I wondered about whether he really was "inside" the drama. After many listenings I'm still not sure about this. There are very few of the great moments where you feel that he's missed the point - or at least not by much.

So what was it? Well for my money it's about how his conducting works against the singing of the text. Not the music but the text. When I compared scene by scene with Furtwangler what i found over and over again was that the later seemed always to have the right speed for the intelligible delivery of the words. If it doesn't sound too ridiculous, they are allowed to "speak". Consequently the drama grips from start to finish. Given Solti's proclivities for driving tempi forward, I have found it astonishing how often he seems to hold his singers back. And whipping the orchestra up into a frenzy isn't quite the same thing as building the climaxes with symphonic inevitability.
So three stars. Not because there's anything bad about it. Not even because it isn't good - it is. But simply because for all the glossy production values and sumptuous singing and playing, the drama (as drama) doesn't grip me.
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on 26 September 2003
I never tire of hearing this version of The Ring. I first bought it on vinyl in the 1970s and have bought many other versions. The CD version is almost as good as the vinyl although purists will still prefer the vinyl. Decca have made an excellent job at removing Tape hiss and you need very good equipment to be able to tell the difference.
The main thing, however, is the performance. This is the very best on reocrd.CD. Birgit Nilsson is the best Brunhilde I ever heard. Hans Hotter a magnificent Wotan and Wolfgang Windgassen a proper heldentenor, unlike some of the more lightweight tenors we are presented with today. It is an unforgettable performance made even better by Solti's Genius. John Culshaw, of course, is a legend in his own time - I wish all record producers were as sympathetic to their subjects.
If you can only afford to own one Ring - this is the one.
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on 9 April 2011
No matter how much ink has been expended over the merits (or otherwise) of the Solti Ring, it still continues to evoke fiercely divided opinion. As someone who can remember buying Das Rheingold when first issued on LP, and leaving the shop, Alberich-like, clutching my prize, I offer one music-lover's perspective on the subject. The first part of 'The Ring' was known to me only vaguely then, and it had been purchased on the strength of rave reviews in the musical, (not to mention hi-fi) press. My own feeling is that it was the ideal presentation (as opposed to interpretation) for its era. It must be borne in mind that when these recordings were first issued, Wagner's music-dramas were daunting to many, in part, if for no other reason, because of their sheer length. This recording served to open further the doors of Wagner's intoxicating sound-world to many an 'average' music-lover, (including myself,) revealing a great, and furthermore, approachable masterwork that was previously the preserve of the afficianado. Few conductors will ever come close to being all things to all people in this giant canvas, but in Solti we have the benefit of a fairly 'straight' traverse of the score. Yes, there are parts (even complete works) which I now, with the benefit of exposure to the avalanche of subsequent versions, prefer by other maestros. However, had I not been introduced to these works by this recording, I doubt very much that I would have had the interest to explore further. Without in any way wishing to diminish the many artistic achievements of the finest cast available at the time, (and this is almost certainly the best sung version,) undoubtedly a major factor in the success of the project was the prowess of the Decca recording engineers. How many others were tempted to go a step further by glowing reviews of the sound quality (it still holds its own today, too.) For myself, I now look upon this recording with affection, and with gratitude, as one of the great 'firsts' of my musical life. If you are unfamiliar with Wagner's music-dramas, and undecided which to go for, do not hesitate. In contrast to the time when I bought that first Rheingold, there is now a cornucopia of riches, with endless differing interpretations, some of which you may be drawn to in the future. But for now, if you're looking for an ideal introduction to one of the greatest of all musical works, the Solti will not disappoint. To sum up; definitely a 'Ring' to cut your teeth on, and I can't see it being thrown out of the pram! Enjoy!
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on 9 May 2001
I have two Rings in my collection - I have just turned 50 - both very bulky , and much more expensive then I suppose.
Anyway , I've just replaced my original, and it sounds just the same without scratches , general age , and has converted me to CD. I hope someone keeps those ENO\Goodall tapes and re-masters so well , for I will certainly be able to point out my applause on that night...ah live performance.
If you want to recollect in tranquility - Culshaw knew how. If you begrudge the seat price - find a friend with a good stereo, reserve 4 nights, get some fun wine and beg/borrow but never steal this recording.
At my age you can have fun with working out the compromises with aging sopranos ; but it works and convinces you that it is happening, and you are there.
I suspect the best studio Ring ever , and a bit more. It influenced stagings too.
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on 14 March 2015
Back in the 70s this was considered essential listening for anyone wanting to get into Wagner. Over the decades Decca have relentlessly milked it for special editions and highlight discs etc. In reality it's a mixed bag. It has some very exciting and unforgettable scenes (eg the descent into Nibelheim) but for extended listening it can become quite tiresome. Obvious answer: just buy the highlights.

Nowadays the best way to learn about the Ring is to watch it on video, either DVD/Bluray or online. If you then want to explore the music further, there are now more than 50 complete CD recordings available. Of these, either of the classic performances by Furtwangler (1950 & 1953) will get you to the heart of what Wagner was about. But the Krauss/Bayreuth set from 1953 is also great and has the best singing I've heard from that era. If you need it in stereo modern alternatives I can recommend include Janowski, Bohm and Sawallisch.
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on 19 July 2000
I first heard this Ring cycle about ten years ago, and I was captivated. There has never been, and I can't imagine that there ever will be, a Ring to equal it. This is Wagner as surely he was meant to be heard. All the performers are magnificent, and Solti's conducting was his very best, which is saying a great deal. Culshaw really knew what he was doing here! If you even -just- like opera, you must hear this. If you think you don't like opera, this will convert you. If you like Wagner, why don't you already own these CDs? It is -the- most stunning musical experience of a lifetime.
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