2014-10-05 · in Books · 315 words

To get an effectively frightening sound for Fafner, Gordon had rigged up a huge bank of about twenty fifteen-inch speakers each with its own power amplifier, and installed the lot in the Blaue Saal, which is a very resonant hall attached to the Sofiensaal. […]

Böhme did not greatly like the result. I sound awful, he said.

You're meant to, I told him. You're a dragon.

He thought about that for a moment. Yes, he said I know. But I'd like to be a beautiful dragon.

Decca Records producer John Culshaw tells the story of the first complete stereo recording of Wagner's Ring cycle, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti — a project that Culshaw and his musicians completed in 1965 after nearly ten years' work. Culshaw notes early on that had he been producing 78 RPM records rather than LPs, the project would have occupied 224 sides; and later he describes a radio station that spent an entire broadcasting day playing the completed recordings.

There are plenty of amusing anecdotes here about the problems of employing and recording opera singers and instrumental soloists. However, I found the most interesting material to be about Culshaw's philosophical and practical approaches to producing the Ring as a studio rather than live recording, taking advantage of the then-new stereo LP format to do things that weren't practical in a theatre performance, while not straying too far from conventional performance techniques. It's a bit light on technical detail for my taste — but when this was written in 1968, I imagine Culshaw was keen not to give too many of his secrets away!

Thoroughly recommended. While I have some of the other LPs Culshaw talks about in this book, I don't actually have any of the Decca Ring series; time to visit my local second-hand record store, I think…