Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Nilsson, Adam, Windgassen, Rysanek, King; Böhm. Bayreuth, 1965
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Despite the enormous achievement of the Solti Ring Cycle, Birgit Nilsson always maintained that she preferred her performance on the Böhm Ring Cycle issued by Phillips from the 1966 and 1967 seasons at Bayreuth. She felt that there was an excitement that came through in this live performance which was lost in the many takes that Solti, ever the perfectionist, insisted upon. Although I love the Solti Ring, I have always agreed with Nilsson in her assessment that the Böhm's reading had a fire that Solti's technicolor Ring Cycle lacked. This performance comes from when the production was new and sports many of the same singers with a few interesting and welcome variations. Birgit Nilsson and Wolfgang Windgassen are simply brilliant as Brünnhilde and Siegfried. There was a chemistry that these two artists had together that created an electricity that was even greater than the sum of their combined artistry. Leonie Rysanek delivers a wild, passionate Sieglinde and she is joined by James King, who in my opinion, is one of the greatest Siegmund's to ever have walked the earth. Theo Adam takes on the younger Wotans while Josef Greindl sings the Wanderer in Siegfried. This practice has fallen out of favor somewhat, but it works well here since Adam's baritonal Wotan plays much younger than Josef Greindl avuncular yet world-weary bass (in the Phillips version Adam would sing all three Wotans). Other variations in casting from the Phillips release all add up to net gains. Lili Chookasian steps in as Erda and delivers rich earthy tones. Martti Talvela's gives us one of the most suave Hundings you are likely to hear anywhere and Kerstin Meyer takes the place of Martha Mödl as Waltraute. Despite my devotion to Mödl, Meyer's voice is much fresher than Mödl's. To go into depth on all the great singers who participated in this Cycle would take up more room than I permit myself in these blurbs, but additional kudos must go to Anja Silja as Freia, Thomas Stewart as one of the greatest Gunthers ever, Ludmila Dvorakova as Gutrune, and Martti Talvela's dignified Fasolt. Karl Böhm's fleet tempos give Wagner's massive orchestra a lightness that is difficult to achieve and whereas other conductors often get seduced by the lush colors of the orchestration, Böhm always lets the vocal line dictate the pacing, giving the singers a chance to sing the text with an organic quality more akin to the natural cadence of the German. The sound is excellent.