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Volume 18 Issue 3 - November 2012

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Old Wine, New Bottles |

Old Wine, New Bottles | Fine Old Recordings Re-ReleasedBRUCE SURTEESArguably the most illustriousachievement in Decca’s history,and in the industry’s, was therealization of a staged for stereo productionof Wagner’s The Ring ofthe Nibelungen featuring the world’s eminentWagnerian voices to be supported bythe incomparable Vienna PhilharmonicOrchestra. EMI had recorded the Karajancycle live in Bayreuth in 1951 but gettingit to market didn’t get beyondthe planning stage. Some years latera tentative release date for the completecycle was announced butthe project was shelved when, as Iunderstand the situation, EMI wasunexpectedly required to pay all themusicians involved with a fee equalto what they would be paid if theywere to record it at this later date.Fortunately, EMI secured the rightsand issued the Furtwangler Ringrecorded in Rome in October andNovember 1953. The story of gettingthat cycle to disc is a saga in itself.In addition to engaging singers theDecca project required a conductorof stature. Hans Knappertsbusch wasconsidered but Georg Solti was thefinal choice. John Culshaw was theproducer who led the Decca teamresponsible for everything necessaryto get some 16 hours of intensemusic making onto a finished tape.To commemorate the 200th anniversaryof the composer in 2013and the conductor’s 100th this year,Decca has assembled an extraordinarilyopulent edition with manyextras that are listed at the bottom ofthis review.Das Rheingold was recorded inthe Sofiensaal during September andOctober 1958 with an all-star castincluding George London (Wotan),Kirsten Flagstad (Fricka), SetSvanholm (Loge), Paul Kuen (Mime), GustavNeidlinger (Alberich) and other luminaries ofthe day. The closing scene following Donner’ssummoning the thunder is most impressivewith London the perfect Wotan who hasunknowingly set in motion the inevitabilityof the far off twilight of the gods. Manyof us looked forward to London’s Wotan inWalküre and Siegfried but it was Hans Hotterwho sang the role in both.Initially, there were very real concerns asto whether demand at retail would be largeenough to make the project worthwhile.After all, there had never been an undertakingof this magnitude. Decca/London’sclassical manager in the United States, TerryMcEwan, was very positive about the salespotential and it is claimed that his enthusiasmand initial first order ended any doubtsThe Solti Ring, Deluxe Anniversary Limited EditionDecca 0289 4783702, 19 discs and more: A new 2012remastered edition on 14 CDs of the original tapes, morefinely detailed and veritable than ever heard from theoriginal LPs and recent CDs; PLUS the entire cycle on asingle 24-bit lossless Blu-ray disc; Solti conducting Wagnerovertures plus The Siegfried Idyll and Kinderkatechismus;John Culshaw’s celebrated book, The Ring Resounding;Deryck Cooke’s original 2-CD introduction to the Ringwith identification and development of each motif; Thecomplete libretti with line by line English translations; ADVD of The Golden Ring, the BBC documentary and filmingof the November 1964 final sessions of Götterdämmerung;Photographs and reprints of the original reviews in TheGramophone; Facsimiles of pages from Solti’s annotatedscores; All packaged in four luxurious LP size hard coverbooks within a matching slipcase.about the future of the cycle. The three LP setof Das Rheingold was issued in 1959 to universalacclaim, both artistically and sonically.No one had ever heard a recording to matchthe realism of Decca’s “Sonic Stage” stereosound and such opulence from the ViennaPhilharmonic Orchestra. It was a milestone. Ithas been in the catalog ever since as LP, thentape and finally CD ... well not quite finally asrelated below.In Die Walküre the real story begins asSigmund (James King) and Sieglinde (RegineCrespin) are thrown together, discover thatthey are brother and sister, fall madly inlove and run off into the woods and conceiveSiegfried. Hunding is sung by GottlobFrick, Wotan by Hans Hotter, Birgit Nilsson isBrunnhilde and Christa Ludwig is Fricka. Theeight Valkyries include Brigitte Fassbaenderand Helga Dernesch who would laterbe Karajan’s Brunnhilde in his cyclefor DG. Die Walkure was recordedafter Siegfried during October andNovember 1965. Siegfried had beenset down in May and October in 1962.The legendary Wolfgang Windgassenis really into the role of Siegfriedwho knows not fear, slays the dragonFafner (Kurt Bohme), kills Mime(Gerhard Stolze) then learns of andfinds the sleeping Brunnhilde thanksto the Wood Dove (Joan Sutherland).Nowhere better is the opulentsound and full glory of theVienna Philharmonic heard than inGötterdämmerung, where all themachinations are paid for, all theprincipal mortals killed off, Loge hashis revenge on the gods as Valhallaburns and the gold is restored to theRhine Maidens.There are, of course, many passagesin this recording of a very long andcomplex work that the listener maywish to compare favorably or unfavorablywith another performance orperformances. That’s what collectorsand music lovers do and enjoy.The Solti Ring is a living tribute,a monument, to everyone involved;the singers, the orchestra and toSolti himself and of course Wagner,the librettist and composer. All perpetuatedby Decca who had theremarkable foresight to hand overreigns to producer John Culshawand a totally enrolled support team.I must comment on the single Blu-ray audiodisc that contains the entire cycle. There is atotal absence of any processing artifacts andthe listener is immediately and unmistakablyright there in the acoustic of the Sofiensaal,witnessing the nuances and dynamics of alive performance. I have heard every incarnationfrom the stereo LPs on, and this soundreally is a fresh experience.68 thewholenote.com November 1 – December 7, 2012

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