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Thread: Wagner's Ring and Tempos

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    Senior Member SixFootScowl's Avatar
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    Default Wagner's Ring and Tempos

    Should I be concerned to get a fast tempo Ring such as Bohm or Boulez?

    This article reviews many Ring cycles with an emphasis on tempo, citing Wagner's desire for faster tempos.
    “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!'" Matthew 25:41 (Christian Standard Bible)

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Any focus on only one aspect of the Ring (or any other major works) only serves to distort the piece. So what if Wagner preferred fast speeds, that doesn't mean that there are equally valid interpretations of the work that are slower and, I would argue, there could be some that are more valid in how they understand the totality of the Ring. We don't have to look very far back into musical history to see a case where a composer (Benjamin Britten) had conducted his own work (Peter Grimes) and detested the interpretation of another conductor (Colin Davis), but we can see that in some ways, Davis' version was just as valid and showed a different aspect of a complex work.

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    Wagner's own tempos in conducting his own music were quite variable. I suspect that some musicians early on tended to play him more slowly than he liked because his rich scores were unfamiliar and conductors wanted to be sure everything was clear. That's not a problem nowadays.

    Every musician knows that tempo cannot be rigidly prescribed, and all musicians vary their tempi according to the circumstances of performance and their own inspiration at the time. This is is as it should be. If an approach works for you, go for it. It's a false issue otherwise.

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    You should get the Boulez '77 from Opera Depot. A tad slower than the commercial release, but better in sound (if you can believe that) and far better in performance. Jones was magnificent in '77, not so much on the commercial release. Plus, it's much cheaper.

    Regarding tempos, the only Ring I disagree with heavily on tempos is Goodall's. Otherwise, I like the varying tempos. Boulez or Bohm aren't all that much faster than Solti or Karajan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    You should get the Boulez '77 from Opera Depot. A tad slower than the commercial release, but better in sound (if you can believe that) and far better in performance. Jones was magnificent in '77, not so much on the commercial release. Plus, it's much cheaper.

    Regarding tempos, the only Ring I disagree with heavily on tempos is Goodall's. Otherwise, I like the varying tempos. Boulez or Bohm aren't all that much faster than Solti or Karajan.
    I think I am going to hold off. I already have a Ring from Opera Depot that was a free download. Walberg, Buenos Aries, 1962. I'll give that one a listen next.
    “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!'" Matthew 25:41 (Christian Standard Bible)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Florestan View Post
    I think I am going to hold off. I already have a Ring from Opera Depot that was a free download. Walberg, Buenos Aries, 1962. I'll give that one a listen next.
    I did that too, when it was free. Sound quality isn't so great. Just saying, if you do go for a Boulez, the '77 is the one to get. The '76 is fascinating to hear the audience get out of control at certain points because they were so upset. Winifred Wagner, who hated the production, famously said, "isn't it better to be furious than to be bored?"

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    Solti..........
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

    "Life's a long song, but the tune ends too soon for us all." Ian Anderson lyric

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet

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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    I did that too, when it was free. Sound quality isn't so great. Just saying, if you do go for a Boulez, the '77 is the one to get. The '76 is fascinating to hear the audience get out of control at certain points because they were so upset. Winifred Wagner, who hated the production, famously said, "isn't it better to be furious than to be bored?"
    This one?


    Yikes! They want $85. Even on a half off sale that is pretty steep.
    Last edited by SixFootScowl; Jan-05-2017 at 00:59.
    “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!'" Matthew 25:41 (Christian Standard Bible)

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    Not a bad article. He's clearly speaking from the perspective of someone who values the dramatic sweep of the Cycle over all.

    I don't agree with all his assessments--he likes the Boulez far more than I do and he's just flat wrong with his criticisms of the Furtwangler La Scala cycle (although I kind of agree with his criticisms as applied to Furtwangler's 1953 RAI cycle). I definitely agree with his criticisms of the Solti--very well stated.

    I always recommend Bohm as the best place to start, largely because I started with Solti--my only cycle for decades and always felt I didn't like the piece, and then listened to Bohm and became obsessed. It's also a very economical way to go, with a full cycle easily available either by itself for like $25 or $30 or in combination in big box sets for like $50.

    That Wallberg from operadepot is pretty rough. I wouldn't recommend that as the recording to learn this piece.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Florestan View Post
    This one?


    Yikes! They want $85. Even on a half off sale that is pretty steep.
    Yep. I did the mp3 version, which is half the price, when they were having the sale, which was another 50% off. The commercial release has been discontinued, so the CD version is over $200, easily. The DVD version is pretty easy to get.

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    Quote Originally Posted by howlingfantods View Post
    Not a bad article. He's clearly speaking from the perspective of someone who values the dramatic sweep of the Cycle over all.

    I don't agree with all his assessments--he likes the Boulez far more than I do and he's just flat wrong with his criticisms of the Furtwangler La Scala cycle (although I kind of agree with his criticisms as applied to Furtwangler's 1953 RAI cycle). I definitely agree with his criticisms of the Solti--very well stated.

    I always recommend Bohm as the best place to start, largely because I started with Solti--my only cycle for decades and always felt I didn't like the piece, and then listened to Bohm and became obsessed. It's also a very economical way to go, with a full cycle easily available either by itself for like $25 or $30 or in combination in big box sets for like $50.

    That Wallberg from operadepot is pretty rough. I wouldn't recommend that as the recording to learn this piece.
    The Bohm is quite good. I like that recording too. I think he's even faster than Boulez, but I'm not sure. The problems with Bohm are the sloppy orchestra and Adam. Still a great recording for the price.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    The Bohm is quite good. I like that recording too. I think he's even faster than Boulez, but I'm not sure. The problems with Bohm are the sloppy orchestra and Adam. Still a great recording for the price.
    Bohm is five minutes faster than Boulez. 13.38 vs 13:43.

    To some extent, Bohm's and Boulez's reputation as the speed merchants of the Ring is kind of a historical relic--speedy compared to what is the question.

    During the 60s through the 80s when most of the cycles that people had access to were the major label studio recordings, Bohm's and Boulez's cycles were speedy outlier compared to Karajan, Solti, Levine. Now with the explosion of available recordings, these are just among the many cycles that are under 14 hours total--Krauss, Haitink, Janowski, Petrenko, Keilberth--and many more are just over 14 hours (Kempe, Sawallisch, Moralt). The cycles 15 hours or more like Karajan, Levine, Goodall and Knappertsbusch now seem more like the outliers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by howlingfantods View Post
    Bohm is five minutes faster than Boulez. 13.38 vs 13:43.

    To some extent, Bohm's and Boulez's reputation as the speed merchants of the Ring is kind of a historical relic--speedy compared to what is the question.

    During the 60s through the 80s when most of the cycles that people had access to were the major label studio recordings, Bohm's and Boulez's cycles were speedy outlier compared to Karajan, Solti, Levine. Now with the explosion of available recordings, these are just among the many cycles that are under 14 hours total--Krauss, Haitink, Janowski, Petrenko, Keilberth--and many more are just over 14 hours (Kempe, Sawallisch, Moralt). The cycles 15 hours or more like Karajan, Levine, Goodall and Knappertsbusch now seem more like the outliers.
    We must realise that tempo is somewhat of an illusion. Some conductors can take a slower speed yet it doesn't seem slower as they have sprung the rhythms. What Wagner mustn't do is drag, which I fear Goodall's Ring does. Interesting that while Solti admired him as a musician he never let Goodall conduct at Covent Garden as he reckoned Goodall's technique could not cope with it. That was, of course, an overstatement but it may have highlighted the profoundly different ways they saw Wagner

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    Quote Originally Posted by howlingfantods View Post
    That Wallberg from operadepot is pretty rough. I wouldn't recommend that as the recording to learn this piece.
    Yes. I found that out pretty quickly and put it aside.
    “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!'" Matthew 25:41 (Christian Standard Bible)

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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    The Bohm is quite good. I like that recording too. I think he's even faster than Boulez, but I'm not sure. The problems with Bohm are the sloppy orchestra and Adam. Still a great recording for the price.
    I have two great sets, Solti for the slower tempo and Krauss for faster tempo. I also have the Neuhold Ring which is not a bad set at all, better than the OD Wallberg set by far.

    The Boulez on DVD looks like it might be a good, fairly traditional staging.
    “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!'" Matthew 25:41 (Christian Standard Bible)

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