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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Szell / Wagner, The Cleveland Orchestra ‎– Great Orchestra Highlights From The Ring

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This week’s Vinyl’s Revenge is a recording re-issued dozens of times between 1957 and when I acquired it under the CBS “Great Performances” series in 1981.

Before George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, George Lucas’ Star Wars, and Tolkien’s Middle Earth chronicles, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen represented the pinnacle in literary or performance arts at creating an entire mythology. This tetralogy of operas is based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The composer termed the cycle a "Bühnenfestspiel" (stage festival play), structured in three days preceded by a Vorabend ("preliminary evening").

As these are mammoth works, and that their performance represents a substantial investment in time (easily 12 hours), these operas are both a gift and a curse – in fact, lay people are immediately turned off opera altogether at the thought of Wagner operas based on their reputation for complexity and length!

They do, however showcase so many of Wagner’s preferred “tricks” – leitmotiv, tone poem passages, that they are well deserving of an à la carte serving of its greatest passages – which is exactly what maestro Szell does on this record.

Szell came to Cleveland in 1946 to take over a respected if undersized orchestra, which was struggling to recover from the disruptions of World War II. By the time of his death he was credited with having built it into "what many critics regarded as the world's keenest symphonic instrument."

Through his recordings, Szell has remained a presence in the classical music world long after his death, and his name remains synonymous with that of the Cleveland Orchestra. While on tour with the Orchestra in the late 1980s, then-Music Director Christoph von Dohnányi remarked, "We give a great concert, and George Szell gets a great review."

Interestingly, during his tenure in New York, Zubin Mehta revisited essentially the same program for one of his digital recordings with the Philharmonic . The exception there was his use of singers (Peter Wimberger for the Fire music scene and Montserrat Caballé in the immolation scene.)

Happy Listening!

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der Ring des Nibelungen, WWV 86 – orchestral Selections

  • Entrance Of The Gods Into Valhalla from Das Rheingold, WWV 86a
  • The Ride Of The Valkyries from Die Walkure, WWV 86b
  • Magic Fire Music from Die Walkure, WWV 86b
  • Forest Murmurs from Siegfried, WWV 86c
  • Dawn And Siegfried's Rhine Journey from Gotterdammerung, WWV 86d
  • Siegfried's Fungeral Music and Immolation Scene from Gotterdammerung, WWV 86d

Cleveland Orchestra
George Szell, conducting

CBS ‎– MY 36715
Series: CBS Great Performances
Format: Vinyl, LP, Reissue
Released: 1982(original release, 1957)

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