This CD could have been wonderful. But now it is just mediocre, to say the least.
The idea of Lorin Maazel to compress the four great music dramas of Richard Wagner that comprise 'The Ring' in one CD and without any singing is highly commendable. Such an idea certainly could, and probably did, win new fans for the whole cycle; 70 minutes without words is a great deal easier to listen to than 15 hours with hundreds of pages of text, after all. Maazel's conducting is excellent and the sound of Berliner Philharmoniker is glorious. The problem is elsewhere.
The problem indeed lies with Maazel's selection. He tried, perhaps, to include a bit too much of the story or too many of the leitmotivs, ending with absurd cuts: 'The Entry of the Gods in Valhalla' from 'Das Rheingold' is completely missing and 'Wotan's Farewell' is ridiculously shortened - it starts in the middle and finishes a way before the end with the famous 'Magic Fire Music'. Both of these excerpts are surely among the most beautiful in the whole 'Ring' and they are most likely to win new fans for the whole cycle - no insult intended, but such a concept as Maazel's is doubtless concerned more with people not so seriously interested in 'The Ring', or those who want to start with something lighter before turning to the original; both things are only too natural. Moreover, both 'The Entry' and the 'Farewell' are essential for the story. Not to mention that the famous 'Magic Fire Music', the astonishing finale of 'Die Walkuere', is completely missing from the CD despite what is written on the cover - the music stops abruptly just before Wotan's summoning of Loge, the demigod of fire. Such a cut is simply outrageous. Another great omission is the famous theme in the brass from the so called 'Forging Song' from 'Siegfried'. Maazel included the most unremarkable music from this song and even wasted almost two minutes with the entirely unimportant dragon and its slaying.
All these wonderful parts - 'The Entry', 'The Magic Fire', more from the 'Forging Song' - should have been retained. There is enough space on the CD, especially considering some omissions that also should have been made - the dragon's slaying, Mime's fright, Donner's episode. The CD could have been wonderful should it have concentrated on fewer episodes and developed them more extensively. Now it looks pretty much like a hackwork, or patch-work is perhaps a better description. Maazel and Telarc could also have thought of 2 CD edition in which all four music dramas could have been infinitely better represented. But it was not to be. Pity.
If you have never listened to the complete 'Ring', or at least a more extensive collection of chunks, and you like classical music, then by all means get hold of this CD. There is a lot to enjoy here. But don't expect to get anything near to the experience a Highlights disc with singing, not to say a complete recording, might offer you - should you have the time and the application to attempt listening to them of course.
Applause and five stars for Lorin Maazel's idea and superb conducting, and also for Telarc's wonderful digital recording. A good deal of boos and one star (maximum) for Maazel's, to put it mildly, ridiculous musical selection and shameful cutting.
P. S. An infinitely better way to start your ''Ring adventure'' are the collections of excerpts from the legendary complete recordings of Solti
. And don't forget to follow the librettos. They are not included in these highlights-editions, of course, but the little guides of the English National Opera are not a bad place to start: Das Rheingold
, Die Walküre (n/a), Siegfried
, Die Götterdämmerung