Even those of us who know little about opera can hardly fail to be awestruck by the epic scope of the vision behind Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”, comprising four individual operas and some 15 hours of music. Created over the period from 1848 to 1874, its storyline blends plot elements from many different mythological and religious traditions with threads of a radical new psychology, all of which placed Wagner at the cutting edge of late 19th Century thought. This complete 2004 performance in Adelaide, South Australia, was the first ever to be recorded in high-resolution DSD for (multi-channel) SACD release – an extraordinary feat for a recording label that was then in its infancy.....the acclaim from reviewers internationally for both the sound quality and the performance has been effusive.
What, then, are we to make of this 2-SACD highlights selection? Well, echoing the style of the original releases, it is beautifully presented in a very high quality, 127-page hardback booklet format (the majority of which is consumed by libretti and performer bios). Each opera contributes between 20 and 50 minutes of music, in its original sequence and typically in whole scenes so that awkward editing is almost entirely absent. Hence, even the most ardent Ring purists will find nothing to cause offence, as the effect is of a shortened journey over the original terrain, a coherent miniaturisation that takes no liberties with the original. And yes, ‘Apocalypse Now’ fans, “Ride of the Valkyries” is included!
The recording quality is exceptional; vast orchestral forces are arrayed right across the rear of the acoustic space, yet not the tiniest detail or nuance is lost. Singers move clearly around the stage, instrumental colours are vivid and dynamics often startling … the sensation of being there in the audience is palpable, and all this from the stereo CD layer of these surround-sound SACDs. Whilst I own Melba’s culminating recording of the four originals, “Gotterdammerung”, its 4-hour duration and glacial rate of progress always proved too much for me. I suspect that the great majority of casual listeners will join me in finding these highlights a more accessible gateway to the Ring Cycle’s delights. Furthermore, the sheer quality of the packaging and recording, plus its keen price, suggest this as the nicest thing that any music lover could find in their stocking this Xmas!