One strong vote for Solti! I agree with your statement praising its sound quality. My second pick would be Leopold Stokowski, though I doubt few die-hards would agree with me on that one ;)
12 responses Add your response
I am a fan of the Solti cycle on London/Decca. For my tastes, it continues to rise above others for both performance and recording quality. Of the various pressings I have, I find the late English London pressings to be very good. The Dutch pressings have greater clarity, the English a bit more body and bass impact. I vacilate in my preference between them. I don't care for the early pressings, and the two Deccas I have don't sound better that the Londons.
And keep in mind, as much as I like these recordings and performances, they have a place in recording history that makes them more important than their inherent sonic qualities would otherwise merit on their own. Don't chase a sound quality chimera here in an exhaustive pressing-by-pressing search. For superb sonics in an opera, Britten's "Billy Budd" or "Death in Venice" (Decca/London) or R.Strauss "Die Agyptische Helena" (Decca/London) are sonically far superior. So, enjoy the Solti/Wagner for a great performance of incredible music, good (but not superb) sonics, and great historical significance.
Hope this is of some help.
I agree with Rushton, the Solti cycle is a landmark and the one all others are measured against. I have the Time-Life version of it, inferior, I believe, in sonics to the Deccas and Londons but still decent (it lets the performance shine through), and it comes with a great set of books too about the Ring cycle.
I agree with Rushton and Rcprince regarding the Solti/Decca sound quality; however I also like his performance.
The Bohm version on Phillips is preferred by many as the best contemporary performance with good sonics.
The Feutwangler La Scala 1950 recording is considered the benchmark, however. This recording benefits from Feutwangler's tempo, DeSabita's orchestra at La Scala, and classic nordic Wagnerian singers, with the apparant blending magical.The LP recording is adequate but lacking in dynamics. With a good turntable it is still engaging.
Consider enjoying the performance of the Ring cycle on DVD. Viewing the operas, rather than just hearing them, helped me develop new perspectives of the essence within.
I am not sure if any of the complete performances mentioned above are avaiable on DVD, but the performance by Pierre Boulez is highly enjoyable.
Karajan's performance of Das Rheingold was available on Laser Video Disc more than 10 years ago. I hope that performance will become available on DVD in the future.
Rush: Actually, I did meet you briefly, I had the Vaughn Williams Tallis Fantasia, and was about to go into the listening room with you when I had to go pick up one of our members whose car had broken down; you had left by the time I could get back. I'm sorry I couldn't talk more with you. I'll e-mail you separately, want to ask you a bit more about Lloyd's turntable.
Rushton nailed it perfectly. I had the cycle in both Decca and London sound in my "vinyl" days. I can only reinforce what he said as being absolutely correct.
I currently have the Decca Box set complete and cherish being able to sit through entire movements of this 16 hour monster without having to get up every 28 minutes and turn the LP over. I haven't sacrificed much in the way of sound either but admit there was an intangible snap and romanticism to the LPs that CDs rarely touch in any genre.
Let me add another dimension to this discussion. Try to pick up a copy of John Culshaws book: "Ring Resounding" long out of print from 1967 but worth whatever it takes to score a copy. This is a blow by blow description of everything that it took to create the Decca Solti Ring cycle. It provides another layer of information to understand this complex piece of art.
While I'm on the topic of the Ring and great books about it; Deryck Cooke wrote an incredible piece entitled: "I saw the World End", a quote from Wagners text. The only shortcoming to these brilliant insights is that Cooke died before he could write the conclusion to these thoughts.
Lastly, "Turning the Sky Around" by M.Owen Lee. A fabulous look at the metaphysics and psychology captured within the Rings fabric.
For me, these books and many others have helped me to gain a better understanding of this genius work. I still have countless unanswered questions and my sense is that it's probably a universal experience. We each bring our own story to the Ring and then compare it to a possible road map of humanity that reveals itself slowly and uniquely to each seeker that would try to discover its' meanings. Seriously consider reading in addition to listening and watching this epic work. It cannot be completely experienced in any one media but demands all of our senses to effectively release its hidden gold.