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Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 9. 1969.

Records — Most Magnificent Cataclysmic Clunk


Most Magnificent Cataclysmic Clunk

I Consider myself eminently suited to review music for students. I have never studied music, and have never written a newspaper review. I am thus in the same position as 90% of students at this university, and so this review should be very readable. However please take note if you are reading for laughs, you might as well turn the page now.

Of the many recordings Decca has to its credit, perhaps the most noteworthy is its great achievement Der Ring Des Nibelung by Richard Wagner. This will become available in some shops at the end of May, in very limited quantities, at the nominal price of $107.47. These are English pressings, and I am given to understand that only a few have been imported.

The Ring itself is, of course far too big too big to review in one sitting, so I will concentrate on the prelude to this 19 disc tetralogy, Das Rheingold. This in itself is a milestone in recording history, recorded in 1958, it is both the first recording of Das Rheingold and the second major stereo recording attempted by Decca. (The first was Die Walkure Act III). When the entire Ring had been recorded in 1966 the decision was made to improve Das Rheingold which by then was showing its age. The Decca technicians took the master tapes and from these re-recorded the opera as we have it today.

As an opera (which G. B. Shaw denies it is) Das Rheingold was composed between 1852 and 1854. It was first performed on 22 September, 1869, at Munich. (The N.Z.B.C. plans to mark this occasion by broadcasting the entire Ring). In 1876 came its premier as an integral part of the Ring, at the special theatre Wagner had built at Bayreuth, Germany.

The recording of Das Rheingold (ZAL4260-6) is par excellence. The clarity of tone and the lack of static in the quiet passages, and this remember, in a ten-year-old recording. Also I noticed a remarkable lack of that far too prevalent distortion which occurs when a line of music can be plainly heard premature to its actual playing.

I will admit however that the thunder (side 6 following Donner's Heda Heda Hedo) is a trifle overdone, and indeed becomes rather unreal, submerging the rumbling of thunder in one solid, drawn out blast. This, however, is more than compensated for by the immediately preceding orgiastic sound of Donner's hammer striking the rock. A most magnificent cataclysmic clunk. Alas even Decca's technicians haveexpressed disappointment over the piling of the gold (side 5). I sympathise with their problem, as no bank would loan them a large pile of gold ingots they had to make do with tin.

Every care was taken with keeping the dramatic mood of the performance by recording entire scenes rather than taking five minute snatches as had been the custom until then. Another novel idea was that of the singers performing the appropriate stage movements. Thus in scene 3 (side 3) we have the invisible Alberich actually running about as he whips mine just as he would should you be seeing the opera. This creates a far more real performance than in the case if the technicians had moved his voice about electronically and it also made the performance less microphone-concious this all added up to a most real performance. It also means fantastic stereo.

The performers themselves were drawn from all over Europe and the United States and assembled in Vienna. Kirsten Flagstadt, and George London in the roles of Fricka and Wotan led a truly great cast all world famous and experienced in the roles of Wagner. Bound together by George Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic. Truly one of the great recordings of this century.