The Ring Without Words

Wagner The Ring Without Words is an 83-minute long "symphonic synthesis" of selections from the orchestral music in the Ring cycle. This was arranged by Lorin Maazel, and Maazel recorded it with Berlin Philharmoniker. Released in 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. Grade: C

Lorin Maazel is one of the most experienced conductors in the world and also a composer. In 2000, Maazel was commissioned by Telarc to "edit" all of the Ring operas into a single orchestral piece that would provide a summary of the whole cycle in concert form for a symphony orchestra. This Maazel did by starting with the first note of Rheingold and ending with the last chord of Götterdämmerung. Along the way he added no music of his own. His contribution was to decide what to cut and where to "splice" the remaining music in a manner that would not sound jarring. Of course, no singing or staging was contemplated. The idea was to present Wagner's core creation in a unified way (rather than just play a bunch of concert excerpts). This might be considered something of a gimmick. But the project apparently was successful. In 2000, Maazel recorded it with the Berlin Philharmoniker, and Telarc published this as a CD. According to Maazel (speaking in a bonus on subject disc) Telarc sold hundreds of thousands of CDs to folks who were a new audience for the Wagner Ring. As best I can tell, no other recording of this was released on CD. But the Maazel synthesis was licensed to other orchestras; for example, the Houston Symphony presented it in 2010.

Now guess what? Way back in 2000, Maazel and the Berlin Philharmoniker also made a video of The Ring Without Words. And now EuroArts has the rights to the video and has published it on Blu-ray! So what should we make of this Maazel/Telarc project as it sprouts new legs as a EuroArts HDVD? From the artistic viewpoint, there can be no doubt that there is a market for the Ring without Words and that it can benefit many people as a video. Personally it reminds me of my passion for butter pecan ice cream. I just love butter pecan, but I don't want to eat a gallon of it in one hour. Ring without Words has most of the famous music and themes Wagner created in 4 long operas. The smashing together of so many dramatic musical ideas is efficient; but for me, it becomes tiresome.

Now lets turn our attention to the technical merits of the video. From the viewpoint of someone who has only experience with CDs, this video might be impressive. But from my perspective, the video is sadly obsolete. To see this with ease, just compare subject video to the EuroArts title shot in 2010 of the same Berlin Philharmoniker playing Wagner, Elgar, and Brahms with Daniel Barenboim conducting (the 2010 Europakonzert). First let's consider PQ. I think subject title was shot as a video (not on firm stock) and was probably state-of-the-art work in 2000. But the picture today has an over-illuminated and faded look with unsaturated colors and a generally listless aura. When you move to the Barenboim 2010 recording, you see how much richer the colors are and how much more visual detail we get from cameras now compared to what was possible in 2000. And by the way, it's a hoot to compare the players in these two shows. In ten years, there have been new players appear in the Berlin Philharmoniker. But there are quite a few familiar faces in both; and oh, how much younger they were in 2000! Now let's turn to SQ. Subject title has Master Audio output, but that's no help if, as here, the master recording is muddy and lacking in fidelity. Probably the year 2000 sound recording was consider fine by the standards then. But the Barenboim 2010 recording is much better at producing both the sounds of the individual instruments and the the sound of the orchestra playing in tutti.

In summary, I don't think this Maazel 2000 version of the Ring without Words will have much appeal to discerning HDVD fans. But I think a re-recording of the work per current recording standards would be a welcome addition to the catalog, that least by those who really, really love butter pecan.