Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Philips
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
WORKS: Der Ring Des Nibelungen
PERFORMER: Donald McIntyre, Siegfried Jerusalem, Hermann Becht, Helmut Pampuch, Peter Hofmann, Jeannine Altmeyer, Gwyneth Jones, Manfred Jung, Fritz Hübner; Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 475 7960
This, of course, is the original TV Ring, the once controversial Bayreuth centenary staging, also available on DVD. Philips fit its soundtrack onto 12 CDs instead of the usual 14, with only a couple of awkward sidebreaks. What allows them to do this, though, is largely Boulez’s tempos – notoriously speedy, or, less politely, glib. The approach that memorably blew some cobwebs off Parsifal achieves no such revelations in the Ring. Haste does not equal excitement, and a lot of detail is lost, even more apparent without the stage visuals.

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The casting, too, is uneven. Gwyneth Jones, in her steadiest voice, is a marvellous Brünnhilde, heroic but feminine and vulnerable; and Donald McIntyre is a powerful Wotan, although the production, depicting him as a brutal Victorian heavy, narrows his emotional range. Peter Hofmann and Jeannine Altmeyer are splendid Volsungs, keen-voiced and passionate. Others, such as Hermann Becht’s Alberich and Fritz Hübner’s Hagen, are unexciting but adequate. Against this, though, stands some dismal singing in lesser roles, and worse still, the inadequate, weedy Siegfried of Manfred Jung (sounding better than he did in the theatre, but that’s not saying much), leaving a profound vacuum at the centre.

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And despite its virtues, it faces strong competition. If you want a live Bayreuth Ring, sooner save up a bit more for Barenboim’s, with an equal or superior cast including Siegfried Jerusalem’s lively Siegfried, and much better conducted and recorded than either Boulez or Böhm. Or, best (and priciest) of all, Testament’s 1950s Keilberth cycle, magnificently cast, poetically conducted, finely recorded. The Boulez works better on DVD. Michael Scott Rohan