In September of 1957 Decca Records released a recording of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, the first of the four Ring des Nibelungen operas.
Over the next seven years, Decca would release the remaining three operas of The Ring Cycle: Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdamerung.
Why bring them up now? I mean, they’re fifty years old.
These recordings hold a special place in the history of music on three different levels.
First Level: It’s a documentation of over fifteen hours of music that took Wagner about thirty years to complete.
Second Level: In 1957, stereo sound was brand new. This was the first recording of Wagner that grabbed the listener by the ears and placed them in the middle of the orchestra.
From a sound engineering perspective, this was like the Apollo project. The recordings are full of sound effects that were inconceivable with monaural recordings.
Third level: Decca captured the leading Wagnerian singers of that generation. Birgit Nilsson’s Bruhnhilde, James King as Siegmund, George London and Hans Hotter as Wotan, Wolfgang Widgassen’s Siegfried, Solti’s conducting.
Georg Solti (Shohl-tee) conducting Wagner is enthralling. Many of us know him as the venerable, mature conductor of The Chicago Symphony.
Decca made a documentary of the recording of Gotterdamerung and the footage of Solti conducting is electric. He appears possessed.
Solti was one of the dominant conductors of the 20th Century. He holds the record for Grammy Awards with thirty one.
His conducting style leaned more toward highlighting the rhythmic aspects of the music he was conducting.
Solti’s death was almost missed because it occurred the same day as Mother Teresa’s and the same week as Princess Diana’s and Viktor Frankl’s.
The magnificence of these performances equals the grandeur of the music.