More thoughts on Solti's Ring
This weekend, I have set out to recover my affection for Wagner, especially the Ring. In listening to stretches from all my recordings, I have found myself deeply involved with Solti's cycle.
This cycle has all the comforts of a favorite chair and all the well-worn flavor of a favorite drink. I am not entirely sure that the Wiener Philharmoniker has ever managed to sound as good as they did for Solti. I am not always as thrilled with his singers, to be entirely honest, but they are old friends. Hotter, wobbly and woofy as he became by Die Walküre, is the sort of profoundly flawed Wotan that defines the role. Nilsson began her career as the Brünnhilde (and heir to Flagstad and Varnay) of the 1960s in this set. James King and Wolfgang Windgassen turned in career-defining performances. Georg Solti, previously a somewhat-obscure conductor (though that isn't entirely fair) zoomed to the top of the game and stayed there for thirty years. As I said, the Wiener Philharmoniker dropped its frosty Austrian reserve, rolled up its sleeves, and made simply wonderful music. Even today, no orchestra (save - maybe - the Staatskapelle Dresden) has created that luminous glow around its Wagner. The finale to Das Rheingold, for example, positively sparkles. This is music-making on a high level. Maybe the highest.
To be entirely fair, Solti's cycle might have been the first studio Ring on disc, but it marked the end of an era. After this, and especially after Wieland Wagner's death, things got weird. After more than fifty years of being held at bay, the Marxists ran into the Wagnerian world and had a field day. Now, a little Marxism never hurt anyone, but when one listens to Golden Age Wagner, one has to ask "Was it worth it?" Was it worth it to have the postmodernists dissect Wagner's scores and come up with a new world? Was it worth it to see somewhat hoary, but earnest, stage designs turned into obscene exercises in the pornographic?
I don't know. After a day with Solti's Ring, though, I see the argument against very clearly.