Der Ring des Nibelungen
Studio recording in stereo
1958 - 65
Conductor: Georg Solti
Wiener Philharmoniker
Chor der Wiener Staatsoper
Das Rheingold
September 24-October 8, 1958
Wotan George London
Donner Eberhard Wächter
Froh Waldemar Kmentt
Loge Set Svanholm
Alberich Gustav Neidlinger
Mime Paul Kuen
Fasolt Walter Kreppel
Fafner Kurt Böhme
Fricka Kirsten Flagstad
Freia Claire Watson
Erda Jean Madeira
Woglinde Oda Balsborg
Wellgunde Hetty Plümacher
Floßhilde Ira Malaniuk
October 29-November 19, 1965
Siegmund James King
Sieglinde Régine Crespin
Wotan Hans Hotter
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson
Hunding Gottlob Frick
Fricka Christa Ludwig
Gerhilde Vera Schlosser
Ortlinde Helga Dernesch
Waltraute Brigitte Fassbaender
Schwertleite Helen Watts
Helmwige Berit Lindholm
Siegrune Vera Little
Grimgerde Marilyn Tyler
Roßweiße Claudia Hellmann
May 8-November 5, 1962
Siegfried Wolfgang Windgassen
Mime Gerhard Stolze
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson
Wanderer Hans Hotter
Alberich Gustav Neidlinger
Fafner Kurt Böhme
Erda Marga Höffgen
Waldvogel Joan Sutherland
May 20-November 24, 1964
Brünnhilde Birgit Nilsson
Siegfried Wolfgang Windgassen
Hagen Gottlob Frick
Alberich Gustav Neidlinger
Gunther Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Gutrune Claire Watson
Waltraute Christa Ludwig
Woglinde Lucia Popp
Wellgunde Gwyneth Jones
Floßhilde Maureen Guy
1. Norne Helen Watts
2. Norne Grace Hoffman
3. Norne Anita Välkki
Decca, 414 100-2 15 CDs ADD
Back Find any errors?

Review by Charles E. Muntz

These recordings were hailed as some of the greatest ever made when they were first issued between 1959 and 1966. Each one won a Grand Prix du Disque and the entire cycle was given a Grammy award and the Dutch Edison award, among others.

Some forty years after Das Rheingold was first recorded, I think this Ring cycle remains the greatest ever recorded by a fair margin. Its crowning glories include the radiant Brünnhilde of Birgit Nilsson, who is easily the finest Brünnhilde since World War 2. Her voice is built like steel, with piercing high notes (more so than her reading for Böhm) and a reading that is as dramatic as it is thoughtful.

For her Siegfried, Nilsson had Wolfgang Windgassen. True, he is not Melchior and lacks the heroic ring and power the role requires. But he sings with conviction and lyricism. He sounds fresher and more involved here than he does for Böhm, probably because of the studio recording. He sounds a bit fresher for Krauss, but is not as convincing overall as he is here. He is a finer Siegfried than any other postwar interpretation I have heard.

The role of Wotan is split. In Rheingold George London takes on the role, providing a powerful, dramatic, authoritative, reading of the younger god. I personally prefer, slightly, Hans Hotter's recording of the role for Clemens Krauss, although Hotter does not really sound as virile for the part as London does. Solti does have Hotter for "Walküre" and "Siegfried", and the bass-baritone shows that although his voice has aged and is a bit wobbly and ragged at times, his authority and interpretation are unmatched and hold up well against his earlier readings. Certainly no Wotan since begins to match him. And no where else is his voice captured in such fine sound.

Regine Crespin brings a beautiful clarity and spontaneity to Sieglinde. Her reading is ecstatic and it matches Leonie Rysanek's best. Against her, James King provides a fine, enthusiastic Siegmund, vocally well suited for the role, although he is a bit more involving for Böhm. It is easy to hear why the great bass Gottlob Frick remarked, "This is the tenor we’ve been waiting for!" when he heard King for the first time.

Speaking of Frick, I feel that he is the best Hagen on record. He manages to combine a perfect legato with a huge, black voice. The dominating power he exerts over the Gibichungs is evident from the first and in Hagen’s watch the full, terrifying extent of his evil is revealed. As Hagen’s father Alberich we have Gustav Neidlinger, who essentially owned the part of Alberich at Bayreuth after the war and here gives a most evil, terrifying reading of the role that is without peer.

For Hagen's half sibilings Solti has Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Claire Watson. Watson provides a beautifully sung, vulnerable, and innocent Gutrune. Fischer-Dieskau is a noble sounding Gunther, and he makes the role into a tragic one as the character's weakness is gradually revealed. His voice is well suited for the role, which he learned specifically for Solti.

The rest of the Ring has been superbly cast as well, right down to the smallest roles. The great Kirsten Flagstad learned the role of Fricka for Das Rheingold. Joan Sutherland sings the Woodbird. Christa Ludwig is both Waltraute and the Walkure Fricka. The Rhinemaidens include Ira Malanuik, Bayreuth’s leading mezzo in the 50s, Lucia Popp and Gwyneth Jones. Jean Madeira is a haunting, foreboding Erda in Das Rheingold. Gerhard Stolze is controversial as Mime in Siegfried--some find his interpretation grotestque. I personally think he is one of the few singers to portray Mime for what he is--a small, vile, evil dwarf who lies and cheats through the opera and gets his just deserves at the end.

The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is beyond praise. The stunning power and control of the brass, the beauty of the harps--nothing is lacking. The chorus in Götterdämmerung is uniformly excellent.

Finally we come to Solti’s conducting. Unlike Furtwängler, whose mysticism and brooding tended to overshadow the drama, or Karajan, whose homogenizing sound tended to dull it, Solti’s reading emphasizes it. No other conductor produces such an exciting Ring. The emotional power is incredible here. The first time I heard Wotan’s farewell I shed a few tears. And after listening to the second act of Götterdämmerung for the first time I sat in stunned silence for a few minutes. But Solti does not sacrifice musical detail either. Even when the music is at its loudest the amount of detail that can be heard is astonishing.

Much of the credit for this must go to John Culshaw, the producer, and Gordon Parry, the engineer. Culshaw makes full use of the stereo medium and closely follows Wagner’s instructions for special effects. They procured 18 anvils of the exact sizes Wagner specified, provided realistic thunder where needed, and most controversially changing the timbre of Windgassen voice so he sounds like a baritone when he comes for Brünnhilde in Act 1 of Götterdämmerung (Wagner specified that Siegfried was to assume the voice of Gunther). The only effect that does not really come up is the stacking of the gold in Rheingold (they had to use bars of tin). But what results is what Culshaw called "the theater of the mind" and this is the one recording of the Ring where I feel that I am actually experiencing it, not listening to a performance. Sonically, this recording comes close to matching a digital recording in terms of clarity and impact. Although I listen to and enjoy many Ring recordings such as Furtwängler or Krauss, for me this will remain "The Ring".

This review is from the now closed Wagner on the Web and it is published without the author's consent. I haven't been able to get in touch with him. If the author reads this, please contact me as soon as possible. If you don't want it here, I'll take it of the site immediately.