Sir Georg Solti’s recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle has been voted the greatest recording of all time in a close-run poll of the country’s leading classical music critics, carried out by BBC Music Magazine.
Solti, whose centenary will be celebrated next year, conducted the first complete studio recording of Wagner’s masterpiece with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra over a nine-year period from 1956-65. The Ring was voted ahead of the 1975/76 recording of Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos 5 & 7 conducted by Carlos Kleiber - who was named BBC Music Magazine’s greatest maestro of all time in March of this year - and Benjamin Britten’s 1962 recording of War Requiem, which took second and third places respectively.
Michael Scott Rohan, reviewer for BBC Music Magazine and contributor to the poll, commented: “Other versions have their virtues, but there’s little doubt that Solti opened the gates for the 40-plus recorded Rings we now enjoy… It hasn’t been surpassed; it may never be.”
Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine, said: “Of the hundreds of thousands of recordings released in the last 100 years, these are the ones that have made an indelible mark on musical history, the ones that every collection should contain. At the heart of each of our Top 50 recordings lies artistry of an unparalleled quality, and a production team that knew exactly how to turn their genius into a lasting legacy.”
Of the 50 discs voted for, just 18 were recorded after 1965, one being Sir Simon Rattle’s 1988 production of Porgy and Bess which took the No. 10 slot. British conductor Rattle is the only major figure still seen on the rostrum today to make the Top 50, while the most recent recording is Alexander Melnikov’s 2010 Preludes & Fugues album, which was a BBC Music Magazine Award winner in 2010, and came in at No. 32 in the poll. With the majority of the best-ranked recordings dating from the 1950s and ’60s, it seems that the ‘golden age’ of recording really was golden.
The 50 greatest recordings of all time will be published in the January issue of BBC Music Magazine, on sale 21 December, priced £4.80.