Wagner: The Ring

 
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Product Description

Unavailable for several years, this classic complete Ring recording now returns triumphantly to the catalogs at budget price! Ring groupies and enthusiasts, who are a very active and vocal subset of opera lovers, argue vigorously over which are the best complete recordings of all time. Most will agree that this is one of the finest ever, and many rate it the best of all! Wagner performances recorded in Wagner's own theater in Bayreuth, Germany always have a special appeal due to the unique acoustics, which Wagner took into account when composing. His music dramas just seem to sound better there than anywhere else. This recording caused a commotion when it came out in 1953 due to its palpable excitement in comparison to the relative sedateness of previous recorded performances. Clemens Krauss was one of the great Wagner conductors (and a personal friend of Richard Strauss), but what really sets this recording apart is the cast. Overall, it is arguably the greatest cast assembled for Der Ring at Bayreuth in the last 60 years. Although the great bass-baritone Hans Hotter sang Wotan in the Solti Ring years later, here his voice is in far better condition. Wolfgang Windgassen as Siegfried is also much more youthful. Astrid Varnay was one of the outstanding Br¨¹nnhildes of all time, and the other singers are equally fine. Even small parts are taken by major singers of the era, such as the famed coloratura Rita Streich as the Forest Bird. The sonics on this set, although monophonic and not up to modern standards, are quite acceptable and have been digitally remastered. A magnificent set including plot synopsis and track listings, absolutely essential to the serious opera lover, especially the Wagner fan and Ring aficionado! Live performance, Bayreuth Festspielhaus, 1953.

Customer Reviews:

  • One Ring to Rule Them All
    The Ring is, in the words of director Peter Hall, the biggest work of art ever. So big that no one recording or performance will ever capture the whole. But this one comes damn close. Recorded live at Bayreuth in mono in 1953, the sound is so good that it is rumored to have been supervised by John Culshaw and his Decca engineers -there's a great deal more clarity than other Bayreuth bootlegs. The orchestra is a tad recessed, but unlike say Music and Arts Knappertsbusch '56, the colors are as vivid as could be under the circumstances, and the reeds, often entirely lost in mono boots, are vivid, while stage noise and coughing is minimal. No-one seems to know the provenance of the tapes, but it sounds so much better than Bavarian radio, someone actually placed the mikes, that I credit the Culshaw rumor.

    Clemens Krauss, who Decca had tapped to conduct their studio Ring initially, conducts at a rapid, dancing tempo, and the result is a white-hot theatrical excitement; unlike other fast Rings, like Keilberth, Bohm, Boulez, though, Krauss never just powers through the material on automatic pilot. Every note has meaning, and the structure is sustained. As a balance between drama and sonority, I've never heard better. Krauss' death, necessitating his replacement by Solti for the first studio Ring, remains one of the great might-have-been's in recorded opera.

    And singing? This is the same cast as in the vastly overpraised Keilberth Ring on Testament. They sound exactly the same as they do on that 200.00 rip-off, which is to say, stellar, the greatest Ring cast ever assembled. Three differences between Keilberth's Ring and this one: slightly better sound on the former, and I mean it; there is no "dust" on the mono Krauss that the stereo Keilberth magically blows away. '55 live stereo and really excellent '53 mono simply aren't that far apart sonically. People who claim the audio is 160.00 worth of better on the Keilberth are merely justifying their needless outlay of cash,dazzled by everyone's favorite "Grail Myth" of lost recordings recovered. (Jazz fans fell over similar raptures with the rediscovered Thelonious Monk/Coltrane lost concert recording a couple of years back, that was similarly dull as dishwater compared to earlier releases with weaker audio). The second difference is the price differential, the not-so-secret theme of this entire review. The third difference is that, except for Siegfried, where Keilberth earns his rep and turns in what is likely the best recorded performance of the "dull one" ever, he is a steady, bland conducter, supporting the singers very well and doing little else. The listener gets no sense of an interpretive "take," it's little different than Haitink's much-maligned Ring, excepting the superior singing. There are also more orchestral gaffes on the Keilberth than the Krauss. And Krauss is electrifying. This is probably as close as we can get to hearing how Richard Strauss sounded when he conducted Wagner, imparting a Mozartean grace and a high sense of theater to the usually ponderous Wagner, while always giving the singers freedom to breathe.
    Don't believe the hype: for the price of the Keilberth, you can pick this one up AND add a studio or digital Ring, such as Solti, Karajan, or Barenboim, which would allow you to luxuriate in Wagner's orchestal tone colors that are always lost in a live mono recording like this.

    ...more info
  • Very good, but be careful...
    I don't disagree with any of the comments below, with one exception. It is true that 1953 is the earliest year in which Wolfgang Windgassen's Siegfried was heard at Bayreuth, and that consequently he is in the freshest voice of his many portrayals that have appeared on disc (spanning 1953-1967). HOWEVER - it is rarely mentioned that along with this youthful vigour so ideal for the young Siegfried you have to put up with a lot of slips. The forging song in Act 1 in particular involves a lot of 'running before the beat' (though this was something he often did, so is not only noticeable here), small slips in notes and text, and in one verse of the song a complete memory loss for a couple of lines. This is not to diminish his artistry, or his voice at all, but I don't believe it's fair to call this his best recorded Siegfried. He is only very slightly less youthful in the Keilberth of 1955 and Knappertsbusch of 1956. Keilberth's 1953 cycle (identical cast to the Krauss, but swapping Martha Modl for Astrid Varnay's Brunnhilde) features some similar slips, though actually not as many as the evening captured under Krauss. The 1955 cycle (appearing throughout 2006 on Testament) has incomparably superior sound - and Windgassen two years into the role is still very fresh and now much more secure in the part. I would call 1955 his finest Siegfried....more info
  • Very Good Sound, Indeed, for 1953
    I take no exception to anything written by the reviewer from Japan other than his comment regarding the sound. 1953 wasn't all that long ago (for some of us) and good "hi-fi" recordings were being made then; this is certainly one of them -- a live recording which captures the famous Bayreuth sound magnificently well -- both for the superb cast and the orchestra. Among all the recordings of complete acts, operas and the entire cycle I'm familiar with, this is the one I'll keep coming back to. Varnay and Hotter, Resnik and Vinay, Windgassen -- they are the real thing. You can't go wrong with this set....more info
  • Hype and received opinion triumph over a flawed "Ring"
    Wagnerites are fierce partisans, but to extol Clemens Krauss's 1953 "Ring" cycle as the best ever fails on many grounds. To begin with, the orchestra is very deeply recessed, which means that some of the greatest orchestral passages make hardly any impact -- at the magic moment in Rheingold when the sunlight glints off the submerged hoard, one can barely hear the solo trumpet that plays the main motto and stands for the light itself. The horn solo that begins Siegfried's Rhine Journey is situated in the next county. One could offer dozens of other examples, the overall effect being that the score is reduced to the scope of a tabletop AM radio. I have rarely heard such dismal instrumental sound in Wagner. The recorded sound is variable at best.

    Second, whatever Krauss's reputation, his emphasis seems to be on a uniform tense swiftness. He is considerate of his singers, no doubt, but it's unfair to compare his good-enough leadership to the feats accomplished by Solti, Karajan, Boulez, and even the variable Keilberth.

    Third, the orchestra plays with good-enough execution but nothing special, which one must mark down to Krauss, since in other years different conductors brought the Bayreuth Festival musicians into a more cohesive force. Boulez and Bohm, under similar live conditions, caused this ensemble to deserve its high reputation, but not Krauss.

    Fourth, the lead singers, although the best for their day, improved in later seasons as they matured and settled into their roles. One cannot argue that this is a consistently fine singing cast, the rock on which this Ring stands. Hotter is exemplary as Wotan, his voice in the best shape one could hope for. However, Varnay was never gifted with a lovely voice, her chief virtues being intensity, stamina, and believable emotions. She is more secure and interesting as Brunnhilde for Keilberth in 1955. The biggest improvement, however, probably comes with Windgassen, who sounds youthful but cruelly overparted as Siegfried -- he's like a Verdi tenor caught by mistake in Gotterdammerung. Windgassen's portrayal made great strides under Keilberth, particularly in the strength of his vocal command. Compare the two Forging Scenes in Siegfried for a prime example.

    On all these counts, I think a side-by-side comparison would instantly reveal every defect I've mentioned. They are by no means subtle. Whether or not this review gets a hailstorm of "Unhelpfuls," there must be newcomers to this much-hyped "Ring," and I don't want them to be as disappoointed as I was when I bought it some years ago. This is mostly a Ring cycle for those who value singing above everything else. As a first-choice Ring cycle, I remain dubious. ...more info
  • Dynamic pricing - crazy
    This is ridiculous. First the Krauss Ring was being sold for $13.98. And perhaps that WAS too good to be true. Then the price soared to $125 something. Now it's down to $104. But even so, it's still nearly twice as expensive as buying the actual discs (which would give CD-quality sound, booklet and art in addition to saving 3GB or so of downloading bandwidth.) Buy the CDs if you want this recording.
    Important: my rating refers to "this item" as sold on amazon not to the artistic quality of the recording itself....more info
  • Simply put........ASTOUNDING!....OUTSTANDING!....An AWESOME RING!
    Wow! It doesn't get much better than this!

    I had heard lots about this recording over the years, but hadn't ever had the opportunity to hear it, or even excerpts from it.

    I recently had a choice of a gratis item from a major bookseller, and I chose this recording. Upon its arrival, I opened it immediately and put "Rheingold" on my machine, and must say that I was "stunned" by it. As well, with the following entrants that make up the series.

    This is such a delight, I hardly know where to start. But, first, I guess I should express my delight at the packaging. Upon opening the box, there, under the booklet, were the cd's, all picture discs, one image per opera, in individual soft plastic sleeves! Wonderful! The booklet itself, while not sporting librettos of the operas, does contain a wonderful article about Krauss' ring by Robert Levine, a page for each opera, sporting the matching cd artwork, and a complete cast list, followed by track keys, and a synopsis. It also includes a few photos, and some biographical information on John Martinez, the artist who painted the cd art illustrations. The Booklet is, itself, printed on a quality weight and grade of paper, and the pages have been varnished, which helps with keeping it looking sharp and new, and with its longevity. An only comment I would make is, I wish there was a fabric spine on the outer box, to protect and reinforce the binding at the opening, as the pasteboard will eventually break along the fold from opening and closing the set.

    First, I have to tell you that I was simply blown away by the sound on these recordings! I have tried searching everywhere to find out if this remastering is ADD, or AAD, and I cannot seem to raise this information. I will keep searching and update this review later. The sound quality on these discs is so clean, clear, and crisp it is hard to believe they were recorded in 1953 Bayreuth. The next "great observation" is the cast list, and listening to the artists themselves in their individual roles. What a GRAND ACHIEVEMENT to have assembled this cast for the 1953 Ring at Bayreuth....OH, to only have been there!

    This is truly one of the finest recorded achievements I have heard. It is so amazing to me that recently we have had so many great recordings surface from the past, especially Wagner from Bayreuth. The recent releases from Testament have been breathtaking, also. Hotter, Vinay, Windgassen, Varnay, Resnik, Neidlinger, Uhde, and Kuen, combined together, certainly put this Ring in a class by itself. We NOW have TWO sets of The RING that belong in everyone's collection. This, and the recent release on Testament conducted by Keilberth in 55 at Bayreuth. Hotter is certainly the blackest and most masterly Wotan ever, bar none. And, Varnay's Brunnhilde is simply awe inspiring! Neidlinger's Alberich is truly evil, Resnik and Vinay are both just knockouts as Seglinde and Siegmund, what a pairing! Uhde is exceptional as the blackest Guntherthat I believe I have ever heard. Last, Paul Kuen is an awesome, sly, little Mime...one of the very best! Holding this all together is Clemens Krauss at the head of the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus. These "old guys" certainly had the insight, heart, and feeling to create truly "close to the bone" Wagner. Today, with modern productions, ideas, interpretations, etc., this really does not happen any more. How very thankful we should be to have these marvelous old recordings, especially this one! Do pick up a copy of this before it is out of print, again, and Enjoy it! ~operabruin




    ...more info
  • Give me Rings, lots of Rings!!!
    I'm mad for Rings! Give me Rings. Lots of Rings. I want them all. Solti. Krauss. Furtwangler. Karajan. Keilberth. Boulez. Barenboim. Anyone else conduct one? Gimme it. I gotta have it, caress it, fondle it, make love to it, possess it, own it.

    I'M MAD FOR RINGS!!!!!

    However, on the subject of this one, if you can only have one (may the Gods forgive you) it is good. If you are looking for a vintage '50s Ring Cycle from the Holy Land (that would be Bayreuth), I would seriously suggest you search out the Testament release of the Keilberth Ring from a couple of years later. Casting is much the same, and it was recorded, but never released, by Decca. IN STEREO!!!!!

    Yes, the sound is primitive, though not as primative as this set. But the performance, thanks in great part to the simply astounding Astrid Varnay and her various legendary cohorts, is beyond belief.

    Now, in the immortal words of Wotan: Geh! GEH!! (Walkure, Act 2). ...more info
  • Outstanding!
    Krauss' 1953 Bayreuth edition is a strong contender among all recorded Nibelungen Rings, and a famous classic, partly because it was one of the first complete Ring to appear on record.

    The ensemble is excellent, including, among others, Brouwenstijn, Greindl, Hotter, Neidlinger, Varnay, and Windgassen - i.e., the dream team, no less.

    Krauss' conducting is very different when compared to Furtw?ngler's (EMI, Gebhardt) - it is much lighter (but by no means lightweight), with an excellent flow and pulse. It's a waltz-like conception, but nonetheless strikingly powerful and potent.

    The "live" sound is less impressive than the sound we hear on the Kna 1956 edition (Music & Arts), but is nonetheless a very fine mono with little distortion (granted that this is not a HiFi product). There are of course, also as in the Kna recording, both stage noises and audience noises. But this matters little.

    In sum, this is a classic performance from a great conductor, and, as such, it should be on every Wagnerite collector's CD shelf.

    Now there are two editions of this performance; the present one and the Archipel edition. Which one is the one to choose? Both are fine, but my first recommendation is the present edition because of its better booklet, with a fine essay written by Robert Levine, and also because it's remastering sounds somewhat better.

    Highly recommended!...more info
  • The One True Ring
    Source: Live recordings from the 1953 Bayreuth Festival.

    Sound: Excellent 1950s live mono. Naturally, the sound is limited by modern standards, but it is crisp, detailed and capable of providing pleasure to all but the most jaded audio purists.

    Cast, "Das Rheingold": Woglinde - Erika Zimmermann; Wellgunde - Hetty Pluemacher; Flosshilde - Gisela Litz; Alberich - Gustav Neidlinger; Wotan - Hans Hotter; Fricka - Ira Malaniuk; Loge - Erich Witte; Erda - Maria von Ilosvay; Donner - Hermann Uhde; Freia - Bruni Falcon; Froh - Gerhard Stolze; Mime - Paul Kuen; Fafner - Josef Greindl; Fasolt - Ludwig Weber.

    Cast, "Die Walkuere": Siegmund - Ramon Vinay; Sieglinde - Regina Resnik; Hunding - Josef Greindl; Wotan - Hans Hotter; Bruennhilde - Astrid Varnay; Fricka - Ira Malaniuk; Gerhilde - Bruennhilde Friedland; Ortlinde - Bruni Falcon; Waltraute - Lise Sorrell; Schwertleite - Maria von Ilosvay; Helmwige - Liselotte Thomamueller; Siegrune - Gisela Litz; Grimgerde - Sibylla Plate; Rossweise - Erika Schubert.

    Cast, "Siegfried": Siegfried - Wolfgang Windgassen; Mime - Paul Kuen; The Wanderer - Hans Hotter; Alberich - Gustav Neidlinger; Forest Bird - Rita Streich; Fafner - Josef Greindl; Erda - Maria von Ilosvay; Bruennhilde - Astrid Varnay.

    Cast, "Die Goetterdaemmerung": First Norn - Maria von Ilosvay; Second Norn / Waltraute - Ira Malaniuk; Third Norn - Regina Resnik; Bruennhilde - Astrid Varnay; Siegfried - Wolfgang Windgassen; Gunther - Hermann Uhde; Hagen - Josef Greindl; Gutrune - Natalie Hinsch-Groendahl; Alberich - Gustav Neidlinger; Woglinde - Erika Zimmermann; Wellgunde - Hetty Pluemacher; Flosshilde - Gisela Litz.

    Conductor: Clemens Krauss with the Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele.

    Most of the writings about the early days of the revived post-War Bayreuth Festival focus on the ground-breaking, minimalist productions of the Wagner brothers, grandsons of Richard, who had taken over control from the Nazi-tainted Winifred Wagner. With no money to speak of and a pressing need to break all ties, they offered a nearly bare stage, few props, non-specific costumes and elaborate lighting. Their productions wowed audiences by their sheer difference from the grandiose, realistic and expensive offerings of the--ahem--deplorable past. (I suspect, though, that a modern viewer might regard their productions as cheesy and immensely dull.) Less often acknowledged is that the revival of the Festival coincided with the flowering of a generation of Wagnerian singers, the like of which is not to be found anywhere in the world today. The arid productions of the Wagner brothers are confined to the dusty pages of theatrical history, but their magnificent singers, larger-than-life conductors and wonderful orchestra can still thrill us in recordings.

    These recordings capture one of the triumphs of the reborn Festival. For more than fifty years this "Ring" under the hand of Clemens Krauss has been held in the highest regard. Many to this day still hold it to be the greatest of all recorded "Rings." The strength of the uniform cast is simply extraordinary. Hotter, Varnay, Vinay, Resnik, Greindl and Neidlinger are all caught in top form and, surely, this is Windgassen's best recorded Siegfried.

    The Austrian conductor, Clemens Krauss (1893-1954), was a slightly dubious character who made something of a career out of snaffling up plum assignments abandoned by conductors who found themselves at odds with the Third Reich. Nevertheless, he was an absolute master of German opera. He conducted the premiere of "Arabella" in 1933. In 1942 he did the same for "Capriccio," as well as writing the libretto for that final opera of his close friend, Richard Strauss. This "Ring" displays him at his best as both technician and musician.

    This is a captured set of live performances. It has imperfections but it also has a vitality that is not to be found in any artificially assembled studio product. Recorded at the very theater designed and built by Richard Wagner, these recordings offer the sound that the composer intended and demonstrate the underlying fallacies inherent in the overblown and over-hyped Solti-Culshaw production.

    Five stars!...more info
  • Wagner Newbie Point of View
    Wagnerites are waaayyy too opinionated for the sake of their own health. The Keilberth Ring is not overrated. This set and that set are both stunning. That being said...this set is amazing. I am just discovering this cycle, or at least plumbing the depths like I have never done before I have come to a conclusion based purely on an immediate response to the music...nothing more and nothing less. I was bowled over by the emotional resonance of this reading. I have had problems with other recordings plodding along, which I think was a barrier to appreciating this operatic cycle, but no more. The time fleetingly passed by as I became more and more engrossed by the subtleties of vocal inflection and rhythmic modulation. These readings have power and emotion aplenty, and for this listener and my limited knowledge of opera that is enough for me. The sound is not an issue, because: a) the remastering sounds fine with some distortion during climaxes, and b) the readings are so emotionally on that one can soon get past that. So do indulge. After listening to this set and the Keilberth, which is worth the money spent, the Solti, for all of its merits, sounds very dry and claustrophobic. If you haven't dropped money on the Solti, which is a small fortune itself. Go for this one and the Keilberth and you'll be set. I do own the Solti but I don't turn to it that much with these other options at my disposal....more info
  • Finally
    I have had this performance for 15-20 years, in dreadful sound (Foyer, Gala) At long last somebody had given the performance the quality transfer it needed and deserved. The sound is superior, the packaging is superior, and, it goes without saying, the performance is superior. It hasn't got a libretto, but they assume (correctly) that any collector who has gotten this far already has a pile of libretti.

    I would not, however, recommend this version as somebody's first ring. That must be Solti's, because he set the standard, which stands to this day. Then, if you're hooked, you can start with the historic performances such as this one, the Kna '56, the Furt '53 and '50. You will also want to consider some of the more modern ones such as Boehm's, and Levine's DVD (much better than his CD version). Von Karajan is to be avoided. I have not heard the Kleiberth '55 yet, although I suppose I am going to have to get it when they get finished issuing it....more info
  • The Hotterest Ring
    Wanting a live Bayreuth Ring with the great Hans Hotter as Wotan throughout, and having eliminated the Keilberth Ring (ropey brass and loud hiss in the Nibelheim scene) and the Knappertsbusch Rings (turgid tempi) I bought the Krauss. 14 cds for ¡ê26. Thank you, Amazon.

    It's tremendous. The sound, remastered by Opera d'Oro, has negligible tape hiss and is more than satisfactory, though the brass are a bit distant at times. The voices are so clear and "present" that it's almost as if you are on stage with the singers; indeed at "Zu mir, Freia!" Hotter sounded as if perched on my lap. Yet no prompter is audible. The cast are terrific (apart from Gutrune, who starts off sounding like Lady Bracknell; oh yes, and Siegfried misses a couple of cues when forging his sword, which is forgivable), and they sing and act their socks off - it's music drama right enough.

    Krauss's conducting is superb. He knocks on the head Knappertsbusch's and Goodall's bizarre notion that you have to play the Ring in slow motion for the thing to work.

    One quibble: the onstage Nibelheim hiss, so loud in the Keilberth Rheingold, is also audible in the Krauss version but isn't nearly as noisy or distracting.

    As for my particular obsession, the playing of the brass (not an unreasonable obsession in Wagner, surely?) - well, they're better than the Keilberth lot; not as rough, raucous and Russian. Or maybe the truth is the same chaps played better for Krauss in 1953 than for Keilberth in 1955. Which said, I'm prepared to bet the Krauss first trumpet was NOT the same as the dreadful I-really-must-learn-to-play-ALL-the-long-notes-in-tune-one-day Keilberth first trumpet.

    Very highly recommended, along with the Solti.
    ...more info
  • An irreplacable souvenir of a great "Ring"
    First, the obvious advantages of this latest "Opera d'Oro" package: unbelievably good value (especially if you buy it through Amazon Marketplace); very attractive artwork; nice photos, an informative essay by Robert Levine and neat synopses by Bill Parker (the regular "Opera d'Oro" contributor) - all in clean, if limited, mono sound which, if I'm not mistaken, actually improves after a slightly fizzy start to "Das Rheingold" and seems particularly immediate by the time we arrive at "Siegfried".

    Then there are the performances themselves. I don't see any need to make invidious comaprisons with the other landmark "Ring": Solti's studio set. Both have their many merits and some of the artists are common to both sets, though clearly appreciably fresher in 1953. Hotter is the most obvious beneficiary from being recorded earlier in his career, before his sound became too hollow and "woofy"; these discs really permit the listener to appreciate the massive authority he brought to his Wotan/Wanderer - he is in cavernous voice but also capable of great tenderness and pathos - though there are still occasional signs of the later problems. Windgassen, too, in his first essay as Siegfried, is younger and sappier than for Solti, though I still think that nobody, apart, perhaps, from Remedios, has approached Melchior's ideal assumption of that volatile young hero. Neidlinger is incomparably vivid and malicious as Alberich - but he was to be equally superb for Solti in 1958.

    For the Wagner neophyte, I see this set primarily as a wonderful supplement to a studio recording, as then you will already know what details to listen out for and the "Ring" really deserves to be heard in good sound. Once you've heard John Culshaw's handling of Nibelheim and the "Entry into Valhalla" in Solti's "Das Rheingold", any other recording is likely to be an anti-climax - but that is not to denigrate the quality of this "Opera d'Oro re-mastering; it's better than the recent, over-hyped Keilberth issues on EMI Testament.

    Varnay proves herself almost the vocal equal of Nilsson as Bruennhilde and often exceeds her in drama and depth of characterisation; Resnik turns in a splendidly vocalised, deeply felt, Sieglinde (but is, for some reason inexplicable to me, often identified as the "weakest link" in the "Walkuere"); Greindl is both touching and menacing as Fafner (and Hunding and Hagen!) - one could go on and on detailing the mastery of so many performances here; suffice it to say that no Wagnerite can afford to miss (especially at this absurdly affordable price) probably the greatest "Ring" ever performed and recorded - with the possible exception of the 1927-32 "Potted Ring Cycle" on Pearl, which is really only excerpts and more specialised and less accessible to the general enthusiast by virtue of its age.
    ...more info
  • Beautiful packaging.
    The other reviews comment on how great the performance is. I just have to add that this set is beautifully packaged in a compact, 1-inch depth, clamshell, board box with gorgeous images on each CD disc. The days of multiple, plastic, 4-disc, clumsey CD cases are gone. Although there is no libretto included, it does include is an insert with the cast and synopsis for each opera, again beautifully presented....more info
  • "Heervater harret dein: lass ihn dir kunden wie das Loos er gekies't!"
    Ah, here's another Ring recording that you can sink your teeth into (not literally, of course). Clemens Krauss with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra is one of the all-time greatest live Ring recordings available.

    This was the first Bayreuth recording of the Ring, and it sure is one hell of an interpretation. Unlike Wilhelm Furtwangler, maestro Krauss goes for quicker tempi and greater suspense. Compare his "Siegfried vs. Fafner" and "Waltraute's Narrative" to later recordings and you'll see that he is a musical champion. There are about four different box sets that are out there right now, but you will only need one: the Opera D'oro release.

    Due to limited rehearsal time, the orchestra sounds robotic a few times. However, that's only a minor flaw: there's everything that you need for a 14-hour Wagner opera. From the thunderous brass to the smooth woodwinds, from the loud percussion to the saintly strings, it's [almost] everything that you need for a Bayreuth performance. "Magic Fire Music" in mono sounds even better than Barenboim's "Fire Music" in stereo.

    No one can ask for better singers. Hans Hotter is the superior Wotan. He sounds powerful throughout the Ring. It's true that he gives an utterly heartbreaking performance during "Der Augen Leuchtendes Paar", and it's true that he's at his highest peak here. Makes me wish I heard Keilberth and Knappertsbusch's Ring recordings sooner.

    Astrid Varnay gets five stars from me. She's a believable Brunnhilde, and she shines throughout. It dazzles me when she sings to Wotan in Walkure Act Three Scene Three. And her duet with Siegfried in Siegfried Act Three Scene Three makes the opera worth listening to.

    I don't really have to say that Ramon Vinay as Siegmund and Regina Resnik as Sieglinde are great singers. It's obvious when they perform in Walkure. They are excellent singers, along with James King and Regine Cespin.

    Wolfgang Windgassen may very well be the best Siegfried for the ages. His scenes with the Gibichungs are defiantly inspiring. His last scene in Gotterdammerung is celestial and overwhelming. Be careful, though: during the "Forging Scene" he makes tons of mistakes, but they'll get used to later on.

    Gustav Niedlinger has a heaviness that overwhelms a few other baritones. When he sings his only sequence in Gotterdammerung Act Two Scene One, his emotion is so pure that his son Hagen would've drowned himself in tears (Too melodramatic? Sorry about that.). The only problem is that his character sounds too one-dimensional. Alberich isn't just some cardboard-cutout bad guy. He has a very good reason why he wants to take revenge on the world. Overall, Niedlinger is amazing throughout Wagner's Ring (He deserves many awards for "Bin ich nun frei?").

    Paul Kuen sings as Mime without any caricaturing in the way. He sounds luminous and painless in every way possible.

    When listening to Erich Witte's Loge, I kept thinking to myself, "why does he sound like Windgassen, and not a Norse clown?" I don't know, maybe Loge (or Loki) isn't supposed to sound like a clown, but maybe he is. I guess it's all up to the conductor's casting choices.

    Special mention also goes to Josef Griendl (Hagen and Hunding), Ira Malaniuk (Waltraute and Fricka), Hermann Uhde (Gunther), and Maria von Ilosvay (Erda).

    The Krauss recording is part of the golden age of live recordings (Furtwangler, Keilberth, Knappertsbusch, and Kempe). I can hardly wait to buy Kempe, Keilberth and Knappertsbusch!...more info
  • A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME "RING"
    How to describe this RING without going over-the-top?

    CONDUCTING: Krauss had the lyricism of Bruno Walter, the fire of Toscanini, the clarity and linear tension of Reiner, the pacing of Muck, and the depth and transitional instinct of Furtwangler- plus a few qualities of his own. And within 9 months of this RING, he would be dead. (He was engaged to conduct the '53 Bayreuth RING & PARSIFAL- only because Knappertsbusch got into a spat with the Wagner grandsons and stayed away, that year.) That is to say, we are very fortunate to have him in the RING.

    Now, there IS the '55 Keilberth/Bayreuth RING (taped in stereo by Decca, with most of Krauss's cast), which is being released, piecemeal, at over-the-top prices. Granted, Keilberth was unjustly underrated (or, to quote a certain Politician, "misunderestimated"). But Krauss was even greater.

    SINGING: On the Krauss RING, we hear several of Solti's singers, in younger and fresher voice (Wolfgang Windgassen's Siegfried, Hans Hotter's Wotan and Gustav Neidlinger's Alberich, to name only three). Not to mention Astrid Varnay's Brunnhilde- one of the greatest performances of anything by anyone (and, until recently, commercially unavailable ! ). She had an intensity and a grandeur all her own- even if her "instrument" may not have been as steely as Nilsson's or as "warm" as Flagstad's.

    THE ORCHESTRA: The first post-war Bayreuth Festival was in 1951. And for the next five years (or so), the orchestral playing at Bayreuth was, overall, better than it would ever be again. Within a decade it got rather slack, for at least three reasons:
    1) Increased costs led to less rehearsal time.
    2) In 1961, the Berlin Wall went up and, on-again off-again, Cold War tensions escalated. This meant that during the political "cold snaps," the best (and reasonably-priced) players from Prague, Leipzig & Dresden (who had earlier been lured to Bayreuth by hard Western currency) encountered greater restrictions in crossing the Iron Curtain.

    3) The better players of the West were lured away from Bayreuth by higher-paying, more comfortable "gigs" with the other big Festivals- which expanded enough, in terms of scheduling, to overlap with the Bayreuth calendar.

    If you think this is an exaggeration, compare the '53 RING orchestra with the '67 Bohm; and while you're at it, compare the playing on Knappertsbusch's 1951 and 1962 PARSIFALs. (The '66 Bohm/Bayreuth TRISTAN is something of an exception.)

    "PROBLEMS": With any live Wagner (even under "Bayreuth conditions"), you must factor-in a degree of human fallability and fatigue. So, in the course of this RING you may encounter little moments of not-so-razor-sharp ensemble. Still, you will be amazed at how clean and in-tune the playing is, throughout. Yes, in the SIEGFRIED sword-forging scene, Windgassen misses a verse and rhythmically goes all over the place before "righting" himself . (But "live" , this passage is almost always a mess.) Yes, at one point, the whole trumpet section forgets to play the "sword-motiv." And yes, in the few lines of her entrance, the Guntrune leaves something to be desired; still, by the time of her little scene just before the Immolation (a passage that was often "cut" in later years- even at Bayreuth) she acquits herself honorably.

    These are all fleeting problems, gone in a flash, and no more of an obstruction to the overall "vision" than the occasional pigment blemishes on the restored Sistine Ceiling.

    SOUND QUALITY: For 1953 radio broadcast tapes, the sound is first-rate. Bayreuth's acoustic is faithfully captured, and (barring a few stage entrances & exits) the voices are always well-placed. In fact, it's hard to believe that microphones weren't obtrusively suspended within audience sight-lines (which the Wagner grandsons would never permit). Whatever the sonic limitations of the original tapes, the ear adjusts quickly, and it becomes easy to lose yourself in the performance (i.e., "good enough 4 me").

    "AFFORDABILITY CRISIS": Let's assume that, traveling alone, you're up for a 2007 jaunt to Bayreuth for a complete RING. Per ticket/per performance, you're looking at perhaps $3000 (a RING totalling at THAT, times 4- even with a discount for the one-act RHEINGOLD). Plus air-fare, hotels & meals...So, you've parted with the requisite $15,000 (and even THAT may be slumming it, with the US dollar's pitiful performance against the Euro), and you are really and truly THERE...What will you hear? I have never been to Bayreuth, but recent Bayreuth broadcasts are not encouraging. Safe to say, for quality of singing, conducting and playing, you wouldn't get within a wide sea-mile of the Krauss RING...Which you can now have for the price of a reasonably nice dinner for two (drinks & dessert included)- AND minus the silly-a** staging with which latter-day RINGS are often afflicted (Vahalla = Brooklyn subway toilet or stock-exchange or both: yada-yada-yada).

    At this price, HOW COULD YOU LOSE?

    ...more info
  • Sounds better than we have a right to expect!
    Although this does not have quite the level of excellence of the the commercially released sets from Bayreuth in the early 50s -- the Keilberth LOHENGRIN, the Knappertsbusch PARSIFAL -- I was stunned by the clarity of the voices in these recordings of the four Ring music dramas.

    There is a buzz and some distortion in the brass at the opening of the RHEINGOLD prelude, which is partly alleviated as the strings surge into the scene. But the Rhine Maidens burst out of the climax like the sun emerging from clouds, bright and clear, light as air. It is a remarkable moment.

    I needn't go on about the excellent cast. Let me say that the packaging is very well done for a low-priced issue. The artwork is handsome throughout, and each opera has unique slipcase illustrations with the disc number printed on as well. It is easy to pick out any of the four, though the plain, hard cardboard cases in the Keilberth set (also from 1953) might offer more protection.

    That Keilberth set offers similar sound qualities to this set, and leaves me thinking that Decca, for which both conductors recorded, had a hand in recording these cycles. Keilbert's cast mirrors the Krauss cast, but Marthe Modl replaces Astrid Varnay as Brunnhilde.

    I wouldn't hesitate to get this Clemens Krauss set as an alternate to any of the 'preferred' Solt-Bohm-Karajan tours of the Ring. If the very best sound is not an issue -- it really ought to be, though, in a work of this size -- this could well be a first choice on the basis of the cast and the quality of the voices. ...more info

 

 
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