Aureole etc.

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

RICHARD WAGNER (1813-1883}
Audio extracts from Der Ring des Nibelungen (1853-1874) and The Golden Ring

1965 BBC film on Sir Georg Solti’s recording of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen
Narrated by Humphrey Burton. Features Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen, Gottlob Frick, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti
Das Rheingold

Entry of the gods into Valhalla
Wotan: George London
Donner: Eberhard Wächter
Froh: Waldemar Kmentt
Fricka: Kirsten Flagstadt
Loge: Set Svanhohn
Woglinde: Oda Balsborg
Wellgunde: Hetty Plümacher
Flosshilde: Ira Malaniuk
Die Walküre

Wotan: Hans Hotter
Gerhilde: Vera Schlosser
Helmwige: Berit Lindholm
Waltraute: Brigitte Fassbaender
Schwerleite: Helen Watts
Ortlinde: Helga Dernesch
Siegrune: Vera Little
Grimgerde: Marilyn Tyler
Rossweisse: Claudia Hellmann

Siegfried: Wolfgang Windgassen
Mime: Gerhard Stolze

Brünnhilde: Birgit Nilsson
Hagen: Gottlob Frick
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Philharmonic/Sir Georg Solti
Documentary filmed in Vienna 1965
Ring recordings made in Vienna in 1959, 1963, 1965 and 1966
DECCA DVD 071 153-9 Film [88:00]; Highlights [69:00]


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When it first appeared, we learned some amazing things from this great documentary: how the Vienna traffic was halted for soft passages of music in the Ring recordings; how producer John Culshaw persuaded Sir Georg Solti to speed up proceedings at Siegfied’s funeral; and, most scandalous of all, that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a smoker! Shock, horror, wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t see it with … etc. Equally fascinating, on a more serious level, is the sight of these engineers back in the dear dead days of the 1960s, editing tapes by hand. If you think of the musical and financial responsibility carried by those nonchalant strokes with the blade, the mind really does begin to boggle, even more so if you’ve ever tried it yourself!

This is a truly wonderful film, packed with drama, humour and information. The drama arises out of the power of the music and of the personalities involved in creating it, principally Solti, but also Culshaw, who presides at his editing console with all the charismatic sang-froid of a World War 2 Spitfire pilot, cravat and all. Solti, relatively young at the time the film was made, is a revelation. His dynamism, dedication and unflagging energy are legendary; less so are the pharmaceuticals that he used in order to keep himself going, laid out for all to see on his hotel bedside table.

The humour is constantly breaking through, most notably with the stunt involving Birgit Nilsson, Brünnhilde, and a large stallion – you need to see it really, but it’s not as bad as it sounds (this is family viewing). Less intentionally funny are the two Decca chappies responsible for organising the complex schedules (long before the days of computers, so they probably worked just fine). Their little scenes reminded me of the two Englishmen in The Lady Vanishes, who, whatever the mayhem going on around them, really only want to find out the score in the test match back home.

The film is followed by generous audio highlights from the Decca Ring. I say ‘generous’, but it’s not really a very good idea – surely most people who want a DVD on this subject will already have a complete Ring on disc? In any case, the enhanced sound ("Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound") seemed to me less immediate than that on the CD transfers published a few years back – some of that elemental quality seems to have been lost.

Just as the video of the making of Bernstein’s ‘definitive’ West Side Story recording was an unique insight into state-of-the-art recording techniques in the mid-1980s, so this film chronicles, in an absorbing and entertaining way, the situation as it was some twenty years earlier. Humphrey Burton, whom we have to thank for so many great musical documentaries, produced a classic here, which Wagner enthusiasts, as well as all those simply interested in the development of recording, will enjoy enormously.
Gwyn Parry-Jones

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