Various Artists, Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Decca was the pioneer of recording Wagner’s four-day music festival, with Georg Solti’s famous studio set and an early live stereo recording from the Bayreuther Festspielhaus (shelved for decades so as not to compete with Solti). In the mid ’60s, Decca brought their recording equipment back to Wagner’s own hall for another live document of the massive retelling of Norse mythology, this time under the baton of Karl Böhm. The result is one of the finest Ring cycles on disc, equaled but, for many, never surpassed. Although the era of the great Wagner singers was on the decline, the cast was packed with singers connected with that tradition and still in excellent voice, like Birgit Nilsson, Theo Adam, Wolfgang Windgassen, Josef Greindl and Gustav Neidlinger, as well as younger singers fully capable of taking on the demands of the music’s style and power, like Anja Silja, James King and Helga Dernesch. Böhm was one of the great opera conductors, and his command of the pacing is complete. These are some of the fastest recordings available, but the speed conveys great, gripping drama and intensity, with nary a hint of breathlessness. More than a complement to studio recordings, this is a classic.