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Reviews: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Furtwängler

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Reviews: 1

Review by petrushka1975 March 23, 2012 (8 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This is a set of most thrilling performances by Furtwängler of Wagner's four Ring operas which were recorded before a live audience for broadcast on Italian radio (RAI) in 1953. It is important in the history of these works and to the legacy of a man who is commonly acknowledged to be 20th century's premier conductor of Wagner, as Furtwängler would not live to record the complete cycle in the studio.

A most remarkable quality of Furtwängler's conducting, which comes through again and again in these recordings, is his transformative grip as a conductor. Working with an entourage put together just for this occasion, Furtwängler did not have the benefit of working with the most seasoned musicians for these scores. Yet he manages to whip up his crew into a truly impressive form. Tending to the orchestration and the singing in equal measure, he succeeds in creating a singularly coherent voice that is, for the moment, unhindered by the technical deficiencies of the individuals. A key factor is Furtwängler's astonishing sense of timing: not a surgically precise and coordinated kind of timing, but an instinctive, almost athletic sense of flow and rhythm that permeates the music and binds the orchestration, the singing, and the drama together. It really is quite breath taking.

In terms of the sonics, one needs to keep in mind that these are early 1950s recordings, which is to say that they are in mono, have a limited frequency range and exhibit tape saturation and compression in loud passages. But they are very good ones at that, having lots of texture, air and a slightly warm balance. The voices are particularly beautifully rendered and real. Overall, it sounds as good as any recording from that era can and the engineers at EMI's Abbey Road studio are to be commended for a superb remastering job. The 4.5 stars I give to the sonics is for the quality of the remastering; if you cannot stand vintage sound, you will not like what you hear no matter how good the transfer is.

On the other hand, I don't consider the present set the best first choice for a Ring beginner. For that I recommend either Solti's Decca studio cycle or Keilberth's live 1955 cycle on Testament. Both of these feature "veteran" Wagner musicians and are in wonderful stereo sound, which is beneficial for conveying the epic scope Wagner intended. They are a lot cheaper to boot.

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