Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Some items
to consider

£11 post-free anywhere
Normal service resumed


100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas


Recordings of the Month


Che fai tù? - Villanelles

Cyrillus KREEK
The suspended harp of Babel

violin concertos - Ibragimova

Peteris VASKS
Viola concerto - Maxim Rysanov

The Complete Lotte Schöne


Beethoven String Quartets

Produzioni Armoniche

Seven Symphonic Poems

Shostakovich VC1 Baiba Skride
Tchaikovsky Symph 5 Nelsons

Vivaldi Violin Concertos




Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger



CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der Ring des Nibelungen (1869-1876)
Ferdinand Frantz (bass-baritone) - Wotan/Wanderer; Gustav Neidlinger (bass-baritone) - Alberich; Alois Pernerstorfer (bass-baritone) - Alberich; Alfred Poell (baritone) - Donner/Gunther; Sena Jurinac (soprano) - Gutrune/Wogline/Third Norn; Martha Mödl (soprano) - Brünnhilde; Magda Gabory (soprano) - Wellgunde/Ortline; Judith Hellwig (soprano) - Helmwige; Rita Streich (soprano) - Woodbird; Elsa Cavelti (mezzo) - Fricka; Margarete Klose (mezzo) - Waltraute/Erda/First Norn; Ira Malaniuk (mezzo) - Rossweisse/Frika; Elisabeth Grummer (soprano) - Freia; Ruth Siewert (mezzo) - Erda; Olga Bennings (mezzo) - Siegrune; Hilde Rössel-Majdan (mezzo) - Flosshilde/Second Norn; Maria von Ilosvay (contralto) - Schwertleite; Wolfgang Windgassen (tenor) - Loge/Siegmund; Hilde Konetzni (soprano) - Sieglinde; Julius Patzak (tenor) - Mime; Lorenz Fehenberger (tenor) - Froh; Ludwig Suthaus (tenor) - Siegfried; Josef Greindl (bass) - Fasolt/Hagen/Fafner; Gottlob Frick (bass) - Fafner/Hunding
Coro della Radio Italiana; Orchestra Sinfonica della Radio Italiana/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. Auditorio del Foro Italiano, Rome 26 Oct 1953 (Das Rheingold); 29 Oct 1953 (Die Walküre Act I); 3 Nov 1953 (Die Walküre Act II); 6 Nov 1953 (Die Walküre Act III; 10 Nov 1953 (Siegfried Act I); 13 Nov 1953 (Siegfried Act II); 17 Nov 1953 (Siegfried Act III); 20 Nov 1953 (Götterdämmerung Act I); 24 Nov 1953 (Götterdämmerung Act II); 27 Nov 1953 (Götterdämmerung Act III). ADD
Includes extra CDR with synopsis and libretto with translation
EMI CLASSICS 9081612 [13 CDs: 902:00]

Experience Classicsonline

Perhaps Mario Labroca, head of Radio Italia’s (RAI) music division, was surprised to find that this Ring would be released commercially as it was only recorded for radio broadcast. It was also a dry run for a projected EMI studio Ring, of which only Die Walküre was completed before Furtwängler’s death in 1954. Yet surely all those concerned must have appreciated the quality of the results and suspected that RAI’s tapes would surface on record? Cream comes to the top. Labroca matched Furtwängler, his finest RAI musicians and many of the greatest Wagner singers of the Vienna State Opera, taping both dress rehearsals and live concert performances, where audience members were vetted for coughs and noisy late-comers. As Mike Ashman explains in his informative booklet essay, whilst Furtwängler was to choose which recordings would be later broadcast, Rheingold, Walküre Act III, Siegfried Act II and Götterdämmerung Acts I and III were in fact broadcast live. Following Furtwängler’s death EMI’s David Bicknell tried to license the RAI Ring so a complete Furtwängler cycle could be issued. However contractual barriers prevented issue on LP until 1971 when critic Deryck Cooke famously declared Furtwängler’s Ring was the “greatest gramophone event of the century”. EMI remastered the cycle for a 1990 CD issue and now reissue the cycle in a slimline box set with improved cover design, presumably redolent of the industrious Nibelungs, for the 125th anniversary of the great conductor’s birth. The transformative elements of Furtwängler's conducting bear upon the listener’s inner life through dramatic force. These are timeless and sound totally fresh after almost sixty years: a rich bass-up orchestral palette, cumulative architecture over large spans, rhythmic grip and narrative heart. This is all in the service of Wagner’s opera. Gone are concepts imposed upon the music, be they Solti’s upbeat excitability, Goodall’s beautifully blended longueurs or Böhm’s forward-leaning lightness. Furtwängler is probably closest to Keilberth in deserving the label ‘natural’ but is infinitely more exciting.

Furtwängler's studio recordings, many re-released recently in a 21 CD box set (EMI 50999 9 07878 2 9), are nearly all superseded by live broadcasts where Furtwängler is inspired to greater heights through communication with his audiences. This general rule also applies, for all its glories, to Furtwängler's 1954 studio Vienna Philharmonic Walküre which does not match this RAI Walküre for intensity. Only Furtwängler could say if this was due to studio confines or his health problems, sadly including some hearing loss. As Martha Mödl, quoted in the booklet, affirms: with this Ring Furtwängler "didn't pay attention to the radio microphones; he just lost himself in the score and the moment. You can hear that; that's what's great about this recording."

It is cruel to consider that within two years of the sonic limitations of this mono broadcast Decca produced the beautiful bloom of their stereo Bayreuth Ring (Testament). Three years after that John Culshaw was in the studio of the Vienna Sofiensaal producing Georg Solti's Rheingold, which in terms of both sound engineering and the conductor's artistry is the reverse of Furtwängler’s Ring. Oddly, EMI has not taken the opportunity to re-master the 1990 CD sound, which remains constricted and dry. If only EMI invited an engineer like Andrew Rose (Pristine Audio) to dust off RAI’s tapes! And voices can be balanced too forward whereby the Rheinmaidens are seemingly beside Wotan’s elbow at the end of Rheingold and Mödl’s closeness to the microphone in the Immolation makes her sound more effortful than she probably was. Nevertheless, the orchestra has greater presence than the 1954 studio Walküre. The RAI drums are more thunderous as Siegmund claims Nothung and the strings have greater body. However the RAI players can’t match the Vienna Philharmonic’s sheen as Wotan kisses away Brünnhilde’s godhead in Act III. There is also better orchestral detail than in the 1953 Krauss Bayreuth broadcast and, I was surprised to find in Act III Siegfried, than the 1955 stereo Keilberth! Proof that Furtwängler was right in thinking Wagner should have trusted conductors rather than limit the orchestra using Bayreuth’s unique sunken pit?

Since 1971 there has also been much critical comment on the RAI orchestral playing which includes scrappy ensemble, missed entries and patchy tuning, the worst example being the final scene of Rheingold where the brass notes are more negotiated, even raucous, than splendid. Perhaps the Rheingold dress rehearsal tapes can be unearthed so such fluffs, including the cringe-inducing trumpet ‘blip’, where the trumpeter hits the wrong note before moving to the right one (CD2 track 22 3:45), could be edited out? On the whole, though, the orchestra’s limitations should not be overstated and Furtwängler’s inspirational presence clearly galvanises the players. In Siegfried’s final pages tension ripples throughout the orchestra into huge rhythmic waves and the strings ignite in passion as in no other recording. The final note is smudged, but after such building excitement, many listeners will feel this is not the point.

Many Wagnerians will appreciate that Ferdinand Frantz’s sonorous and authoritative Wotan does not wear his heart on his sleeve. Others may prefer Hans Hotter’s 1953 Bayreuth Wotan for a more dramatic response to the text. Certainly there is subtle sadness underlying Frantz’s Act III Walküre Farewell but, for me, Frantz did not fully rise to the overwhelming intensity of his daughter’s pleas beforehand. Again, Julius Patzak’s Mime is beautifully sung, avoiding caricature; Graham Clarke in Barenboim’s Ring is the more vivid character actor. But really these are quibbles and there are no weak links in Furtwängler’s experienced cast. We have Windgassen’s youthful, sunny Siegmund partnering Hilde Konetzni’s dark-voiced Sieglinde, undoubtedly a woman with deep torments. There is also an exceptional Erda and Waltraute from Margarete Klose, both portrayals deep enough to portend the gods’ impending catastrophe. Ludwig Suthaus’s Siegfried benefits from several days rest between acts so he is still heroic for the Act III Siegfried duet, always maintaining long singing lines. That Rita Streich sings the Woodbird and Elizabeth Grummer Freia typifies the legendary quality of the ensemble.

The standout ‘transformative’ singer is Martha Mödl in her only complete Brünnhilde on record. Mödl was generous in her support of this Ring being licensed and released, even offering, if needed, for her royalties to be shared amongst other artists who may since have fallen on tough times. This generosity, combined with a clear inner conviction, informs her warm, human portrayal, far from the implacable god-like defences of Flagstad or Nilsson. Yes, Mödl scoops and swoops, and her vocal production is chesty, but like the kaleidoscopic colours within Mödl’s dark mezzo-ish soprano, Mödl acts out a multi-faceted character. Here Brünnhilde journeys from the steady control of her opening “Hojotoho! Hojotoho!”, the thrilling abandon ending the Siegfried and Götterdämmerung duets, more secure for Furtwängler than Keilberth in 1955, to the heroic last stand of the Immolation, all the more moving as Mödl makes it clear there is a rounded person about to make her ultimate sacrifice. Mödl’s finest singing is in Act II scene 5 Götterdämmerung where, underpinned by Furtwängler realising a slow nervous pulse, she digs deep within her soul to grapple with the extent of Siegfried’s betrayal, mixing stunned grief with emerging fury (“Ach, Jammer, jammer …”). Singer and conductor raise such drama to Shakespearian pinnacles.

I first heard excerpts from this Ring twenty years ago on LPs borrowed the Central Library in Christchurch, New Zealand. Rehearing this set weeks around the earthquake which killed hundreds and devastated much of that historic, well-kept city, I thought again of the issues Wagner raised. The Ring is often explained as a parable, a kind of warning that human effort, power and energy are somehow all swept away and we are left in the end with love. This is not enough. Wagner himself, after all, was notably industrious and materialistic. The best aspects of these things are never wasted as Furtwängler and his fellow artists remind us of the adventure and nobility within the well-travelled creative journey itself.

David Harbin

Masterwork Index: The Ring Cycle



























































Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.


> Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.