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See latest reviews of other albums..., February 2011

Videos of classical-music performances always pose something of a dilemma to creators and prospective purchasers alike. Creators have to figure out just what video elements it makes sense to add: ones to try to duplicate a concertgoing experience, ones to enhance at-home viewing, ones that “jazz up” the visuals, ones that are consonant with the tone of the music, ones that make a concert look like a TV show, or what? Purchasers have to decide whether it makes sense to have music on DVD (or, more recently, Blu-ray Disc), at a higher price, rather than have the same material on CD: will they actually watch the video version, and if so, will they watch it often enough to make the extra cost worthwhile? The pluses and minuses of video productions are clear each time new ones are released. Wagner: The Ring without Words is a video version of Lorin Maazel’s 83-minute distillation of Wagner’s nearly 20-hour-long operatic tetralogy, an attempt to bring the Ring cycle’s gorgeous music to a wider audience than would typically have time, money or inclination to see it in the opera house—assuming interested people could even find an opera company that was doing all four operas in reasonably close proximity. Maazel’s work is a noble attempt that does not quite work, through no fault of his: the Ring is deliberately conceived on a huge scale, its leitmotif structure so complex that the interwoven themes of one opera pervade not only that work but also the other three. The Ring without Words lessens the cycle musically to the exact same extent that it opens it up to concert-hall audiences. Yet the music itself is so glorious, so dramatic, that Maazel’s construct is very definitely worth hearing, and will be of interest even to listeners familiar with the operas. But hearing it while seeing it on DVD? Well, despite the excellent playing of the Berlin Philharmonic, it is hard to argue that the video element adds much, if anything, to the experience. This is a performance from October 2000, and it certainly shows Maazel’s intense involvement in the music, giving viewers many looks at a top-notch conductor as he performs a work in which he is heavily invested emotionally. But operagoers will miss the tremendous visual structure that Wagner created for the Ring cycle (even if those visuals have been interpreted decidedly oddly in many recent productions), and listeners unfamiliar with the operas will be seeing just another concert here—nothing wrong with it, but nothing particularly special, either.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, January 2011

Pulling just the orchestral score out of any opera is not an obvious candidate for a satisfying concert, which is why renowned American conductor Lorin Maazel had to be asked three times to pull together a music-only highlights piece from Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. That he managed to capture the full essence of the four operas and their dramatic arc in 70 minutes is a small miracle. This 10-year-old live performance from the Philharmonie in Berlin is stunning, with Maazel in complete control—without the help of a score—from beginning to end. There’s no opera to watch, but the camerawork is nice, capturing occasional eloquently candid glances between musicians. This is a treat. The only extra is a five-minute interview with Maazel.

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8:51:44 PM, 28 August 2015
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