It were those differences in output considering Ring recordings that saved me from the idea that a piece of (classical) music should have a definitive version. From that point of awareness on, the CDs in my record collection started to grow into serious numbers. Because why would you stay with one version of a piece when you can have several at your disposal?
The Bayreuth recording from 1977 is slower than the commercial release on Philips from 1980 but in comparison to Solti , Boulez is a speed demon. But a speed demon that never misses a beat. Treating Wagner's Ring as an audio-only drama, the Solti Ring is seasoned and spiced up in the studio. It adds sounds that have to enhance the home theater experience. And with Solti leaning heavily on the brass (by times it's like the cavalery is coming to town) the result is sonically impressive. In summer weeks like these it's great to play this Ring with windows open (giving the neighbourgs their share of Teutonic enlightenment). But that approach and those additional sounds also do for Wagner's music what 3D does for movies. It delivers undeniable moments of brilliance but it comes at a cost with the natural development of the story disturbed and a somewhat artificial result in the end. Comparing the Solti and Boulez Ring I have to give the latter the nod when it comes to orchestral sound (transparent and with a natural flow).
Boulez may top Solti in his orchestral approach his singers can't match the Ring of late Georg. Kirsten Flagstad, a legendary voice from the mono age, George London, Hans Hotter, Wolfgang Windgassen and of course Birgit Nilson as Brunnhilde formed a cast that isn't topped since. Expecially Hans Hotter benefits from the improved 2012-remastered sound. For the real Hans Hotter-as-Wotan-show in stereo one better turns to the Bayreuth Keilberth Ring from 1955. But in this latest remastering he sounds stronger than on the previous version I owned (which had Das Rheingold spanned over 3 discs) and a lot less than an old man in need for his asthma medicines.
The summer of 1976 in Bayreuth was something special. Together with the premiere of the Boulez-Chéreau production of the Ring, there was a production of Tristan und Isolde under the baton of Carlos Kleiber. Kleiber is a magician with Wagner's score. Like Boulez he is able to turn the music in a kind of perpetual motion machine that is impossible to resist. His studio recording with René Kollo and Margaret Price sounds detached compared to this performance. I love the beautiful Isolde of Margaret Price but I am not very fond of René Kollo's Tristan. Kleiber's singers here are Spas Wenkoff as Tristan and Caterina Ligendza as Isolde. Wenkoff is a revelation for me. His Tristan is a sensitive, noble man. I only knew Ligendza from the Böhm-Friedrich production of Strauss' Elektra in which she sang Chrysothemis. Together with Wenkoff she forms a beautiful love couple here. Where Birgit Nilson gives Isolde almost superhuman powers Ligendza give this character more human qualities. The same goes for Wenkoff's Tristan so here Wagner's cathedral of sound has inhabitants of real flesh and blood. It's a pity that the scope of Kleiber's commercial releases and performances was pretty limited. Listening to this live recording (and his live recordings from Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, Strauss' Elektra and Berg's Wozzeck) one can only conclude that he had more to offer to the German-Austrian musical repertoire than many. To his Tristan from Bayreuth I will return, that's for sure. It has become my current favorite rendition of this opera.