Review by Charles E. Muntz|
Made at the Bayreuth festival in 1967 during Wieland Wagner's second
Ring production, this has long been considered one of the finer Rings
on record. The legendary Birgit Nilsson, who sings Brünnhilde without
any noticeable strain to the very end of Götterdämmerung, spearheads
the cast. She is by a very slight margin more dramatically involved
for Böhm than she was for Georg Solti in his recordings. But I also
think that vocally, her earlier studio reading was a bit more precise.
I do not have a preference between the two, but I do know that Nilsson
preferred the live reading she gave for Böhm.
Böhm shares several other singers with Solti. James King is noticeably
more dramatically alert and involving then he was in his already fine
recording of Siegmund. He has a magnificent, experienced partner in
Leonie Rysanek, easily the equal of Régine Crespin for Solti. Gustav
Neidlinger and Kurt Böhme (Fafner) both gain a bit from the live
performance, but it is hardly noticeable most of the time. Neidlinger
certainly maintains his reputation as one of the greatest Alberichs of
Josef Greindl was the principal bass at Bayreuth immediately after the
Second World War. By the time of this recording his voice had developed
an unpleasant nasal quality. He certainly brings a great deal of
experience to the part, but Gottlob Frick has a better, blacker voice
and is downright terrifying for Solti.
Wolfgang Windgassen as Siegfried sounds significantly less vivid and
inspired than he does for Solti, although he is still fine vocally and
A much more serious casting problem is to be found in Theo Adam as
Wotan. While he is certainly an intelligent singer and does a decent
job of projecting character, he leaves much to be desired vocally.
His voice is smaller and much less authoritative than the god's should
be and it is inclined to be wobbly and abrasive, particularly in
Rheingold. He improves as the operas progress, but he is never nearly
as satsifying as Hotter is for Solti (even with his vocal problems) or
A few other casting flaws to note. Neither Ludmilla Dvoráková (Gutrune)
nor Vera Soukupova (Erda) has much understanding or depth of character.
Erika Köth as the Woodbird is also a disappointment. Martha Mödl as
Waltraute is interesting, but rather unsteady.
However, the Rhinemaidens, Valkyries and the Norns all very fine.
Martti Talvela is a treat to have as Fasolt and Annelies Burmeister
is a fine Fricka. Thomas Stewart is a standout as Gunther, although
not as intelligent and tragic as Fischer-Dieskau is for Solti. The
lesser gods are capably taken.
I have mixed feelings about Böhm’s conducting. His speeds are fast--
this Ring is a full hour shorter than Solti's and he manages to keep
up a high level of excitement throughout almost the whole performance.
But one would frequently like him to slow down. For instance, the
Erda-Wotan scene in Rheingold simply does not come off, in part
because of his dashing through it, and in part because of the singers.
In many of the climaxes, such as the end of Act 2 of Götterdämmerung,
Böhm fails to rise to the moment. Instead, he is content to keep up
the same level of excitement throughout the entire cycle. This
sometimes seems superficial and hectic, although it is far from bad.
All told, Solti has much better orchestral phrasing, power and depth
to his recording. And the Bayreuth orchestra, while fine, is no match
for the Vienna Philharmonic. The Bayreuth chorus is, however, the
equal of the Vienna State Opera Chorus.
As for the recording itself, it is a vast improvement over the Rings
recorded at Bayreuth in the 50s. But there is still a terrible lack
of detail in the orchestra--partially the result of Bayreuth’s unique
acoustics. And the brass is weak. The stereo medium is rarely
exploited, a result of the staging itself. All told, the sound is
flat and lacks the vividness of Solti. It also lacks many of the
special effects Solti has, which is a minor point but one more reason
why this probably is not the best choice as a first Ring recording.
It is a very fine one, however, and I know I shall return to it often,
particularly the Walküre, which is one of my three favorite readings
of the work (Solti and Furtwängler are the others). While I think
that Solti is a better choice for a first Ring, this is a marvelous
choice for a second or third.
This review is from the now closed Wagner on the Web and it is published
without the author's consent. I haven't been able to get in touch with him.
If the author reads this, please contact me as soon as possible. If you
don't want it here, I'll take it of the site immediately.