This is a fascinating group of recordings. The sheer excess
of tunes and climaxes can seem exhausting. However, devoid of
singers and weird productions the music stands up remarkably
In Das Rheingold (CD1 Track 2) the start can seem a little
disappointing without the shrieks of "Weia! Waga! Woge
du Welle!" but before one realises it, so many different
textures, otherwise often obscured, are revealed even in the
first minute. The skipping, youthful phrases - 10 seconds into
track 2 - trill and fascinate. The music sounds new minted.
The musical picture of flowing river and youthful emotions is
communicated vividly. The lightness of touch evident here only
goes to show how often the staging of these operas fail to communicate
the Weber-like charm and fantasy of the score. So many zealous
producers and lumpy singers have made this music seem stodgy
The revolutionary nature of the score is forever evident. The
beautiful shining textures and well-recorded orchestra make
the martial 'Nibelheim' (CD1 Track 3) very exciting. If not
always so dramatic as in some Ring Cycles, the results
are never dull. The personality of a Solti or Karajan may be
missing - and a central idea is needed to tie together the elements
of a full performance of The Ring - but the result is
nonetheless effective, letting the music speak for itself.
The horns' entry in Die Walküre is well recorded with
a warmth and space missing in many older recordings or even
performances such as the Maazel set which cannot compare with
the acoustics in the Concertgebouw. Sometimes the selections
are not knitted together very smoothly - one misses the process
of slowly building up to musical climaxes. Nevertheless, the
result rarely feels like 'bleeding chunks'. The trilling woodwind
sounds especially beautiful in The Ride of the Valkyries
(CD 1, Track 5) which must be more familiar to many listeners
as an orchestra-only affair than in its 'proper' place in the
opera with singers. This performance is lively without the exaggerated
toing and froing evident in many performances both on compilation
discs or in the opera house (CD 1, Track 5, 1:36). The tinkling
details are caught just as well as the roaring horns in lovely
clear stereo sound - good bass.
Speeds tend to be on the fast side with various advantages and
disadvantages. In the Fire Music ending Walküre,
("Feuerzauber'' CD 1, Track 6) the result is quicker than
Thielemann at Bayreuth in 2007 (Youtube) or Mehta at Valencia
in 2008 (Youtube). I prefer Mehta's slower speeds for the section
after Wotan calls ''Loge! Hieher!'' until the ring of fire ignites
(equivalent to CD 1, Track 6, 0:31 to 0:39). Then again, de
Waart's swift speeds sound more fleet-footed and successful
as the fire moves around the circle (CD 1, Track 6, 0:39 onwards)
than Mehta or Thielemann who sound rather heavy-handed. The
quicker speeds de Waart generally employs never sound arbitrary
and he provides flexible direction.
Listening to this recording one develops a terrific urge to
listen again to the complete operas. The beauties of 'Siegfrieds
Heldentat' (CD 1 track 8) are a special highlight as the orchestra
play with a special exuberance and a fine horn soloist. Listening
to Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
in 2009 on Youtube you can hear extra drive and a more martial
beat which is highly attractive and exciting in this music.
The BPO sound more alert and bright, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic
more softly focussed but still enjoyable. I believe de Waart's
lighter, more speedy approach is a worthwhile interpretation
given the pastoral horns and Siegfried’s youthful exuberance.
Try CD 1 Track 14 especially at 1:32.
I find Tristan und Isolde less successful as moments
such as CD 2, Track 3 "Nachtgesang'' lose so much of their
impact without singers. This passage, ''O Sink herneider nacht
der Leibe'', sounds bright and beautiful but the extra layer
provided by the singers - think of the amorous, erotic outpouring
of emotion by Placido Domingo with Nina Stemme - provides the
'passion' at times missing here. Isolde's Liebstod (CD
2, Track 7) also misses a good deal although the result is well
I find the Parsifal disc the most impressive of all with
the orchestra sounding confident in both extrovert passages
and the more quite moments. Track 1 on CD 3, 'Vorspiel' is a
sign of the great things to come - most notably ''Karfreitagszauber''
which sounds terrific in both the extrovert moments and the
reflective episodes - around the 4 minute mark. With all these
CDs the revolutionary nature of the music is obvious with ''Nachspiel''
an extrovert finale to this set. The music is moving - the lovely
section 1 minute into Track 7 for example - and the confidence
of the orchestra is electrifying. It is astonishing to think
that this extraordinary music is quite so old.
I have not heard all the competing versions of this orchestral
suite/highlights from The Ring or the other operas. I notice
that Chandos has a version called 'Parsifal
an Orchestral Quest' which included 45:56 minutes from Parsifal
plus extracts from Lohengrin and Tannhauser (total
time 69.38). Chandos also have a version of 'The
Ring - An orchestral adventure' with a total time of 75.42
and of Tristan
und Isolde – An orchestral passion at 51:31. I have been
a fan of the Chandos Opera in English series and their
Wagner recordings. These sets must be worth considering with
the prospect of even finer sound than this set - both are modern
recordings which are SACD/CD compatible. Maazel's Teldec set
'Ring without Words' is reasonably cheap and includes
one CD worth of music from The Ring. That performance
is not so subtle as here but may be worth consideration. Numerous
orchestral selections from Wagner's operas exist with a remarkably
good standard available on budget labels such as Naxos - certainly
worth shopping around for CDs or MP3s.
It may seem ungrateful given the intelligent highlights included
here but the only music I missed was anything from Act One of
Walküre which is my favourite. Reducing The Ring onto
one CD is not wholly successful. Too many climactic moments
are crammed into 70 minutes with the result sounding too hyperactive.
This also stands for other versions such as the Chandos SACD
set or the Maazel Teldec recording. A 2CD set of The Ring
would be a better idea than one for each of The Ring,
Tristan and Parsifal.
A limitation of 'opera without words' is that Wagner conceived
the work as a union of stage, orchestra and singers. Words and
language were important to him - perhaps more so than any composer
before him. What we have here is but one component of this complete
entertainment. Sometimes the loss of singers and text hurts
more than others. This remains a worthwhile and enjoyable endeavour,
however, which I'm sure will tempt many classical music fans
towards operatic music.