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 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.  Maazel synthesis was taken up by other orchestras like  the Houston Symphony, which 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.  EuroArts got the rights to the video and published it in Blu-ray.  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 our perspective, the video is sadly obsolete.  The video was probably state-of-the-art in 2000. But the picture today has an over-illuminated and faded look with unsaturated colors and a generally listless aura. The title has Master Audio output, but that's no help if, as here, the master recording is muddy and lacking in fidelity. And, oh, the players in the orchestra in 2000 looks so much younger then than they look now!

There has been confusion about the art work on the keepcase. The 1st of the 4 images in the slideshow above shows the original front cover. The 2nd image presents a problem. Who do you think has more lawyers: EuroArts or The Lord of the Rings? The 3rd image is the replacement cover art that's on the title now. The last image is the back-cover art, which is very similar to the original back art.

In summary, I don't think this year 2000 version of The Ring without Words will have much appeal to discerning HDVD fans. But a re-recording of the work per state-of-the-art of today might be a welcome addition to the catalog, that least for those who really love butter pecan.