The Golden Ring

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: BBC documentary film, 1965; plus audio highlights from The Ring
CATALOGUE NO: 071 153-9

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Ah, nostalgia for the days when TV documentaries on recording projects were more about the process itself than a glossy plug for the finished product. Humphrey Burton’s 1965 film going behind the scenes of Georg Solti’s Decca Gotterdammerung sessions in Vienna is a classic of the medium.

It may not be quite the warts-and-all account of the producer John Culshaw’s memoirs, Ring Resounding, but Burton, who also narrates the film and appears as an on-screen interviewer, garnered surprisingly frank responses from his main protagonists.

The problems in getting the off-stage steerhorns in sync when being piped through from another building and disagreements between Culshaw and Solti over the tempo of Siegfried’s Funeral March contrast with little asides about the alcoholic bribes given to the local traffic police and the special ‘scream’ takes allotted to the singers at the end of the recording to save their voices; and there’s a wonderful moment when the crew surprises Birgit Nilsson by leading a real horse on to the sound stage as she calls for Grane in Briinnhilde’s Immolation Scene.

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The black-and-white picture and mono sound maintain their vintage Sixties quality, but there’s an exceptional added bonus in a CD’s worth of excerpts from Solti’s Ring cycle remastered, admittedly somewhat crudely, in surround sound. Matthew Rye