The Golden Ring
It's an interesting time, as far as Wagner recordings go. Karl Böhm's 1967 Bayreuth Ring is back out in a budget-priced set. Bernard Haitink's Bavarian RSO set, disappointing as it was, is out on EMI's "Desert Island Opera" series. A cruel irony, especially for that cycle, which had a lot of raw talent, but not a lot of product. All this on top of the monumental Keilberth set from the 1955 Festspiele.
Of the re-releases, I am most excited about the Böhm. I could say that it, to a greater or lesser extent, repeated Solti - but Böhm's Mozartean tendencies softened up the music. This cycle, though, was the first complete one that I ever heard. On that account alone, it has some special place in my music heart.
However, the packaging on most budget cycles leaves a lot to be desired - save one. The now-defunct Warner Classics re-release of Barenboim's Teldec Ring set the gold standard for a budget Ring release. The Barenboim set has complete libretti for all the music-dramas, which is always helpful. The Teldec books, moreover, had one really cool feature: they had the Leitmotiven next to the passage where it occurred. So, for example, whenever the Walhall-motif comes along, you can see it next to the text. The packaging was sturdy, at least as much so as the latest Decca release of the Solti cycle.
And all for one hundred or so dollars.
Philips, like all the other UMG labels, has adopted the Deutsche Grammophon "DG Classics" program. The Böhm set is just a remanufacture of the 1994 centenary release. Philips would be wise to get a Philips Classics set out: with complete libretti, insightful liner notes, and lots of pictures. The 1967 cycle was, if my memory serves, an example of Wieland Wagner's last Ring. A more important moment in Wagnerian performance history, good or bad, you'd have to go back to 1876 to find. You don't have to like this Ring, but - considering that it's miles better than Von Karajan's opulently packaged DGG set - it really should get better than it does and has.