I'm joining this conversation late, but if I may say a few things: WITHOUT PREJUDICE
I love chunks of the Solti (especially Acts 2 & 3 of Gotterdammerung), but as a whole, the Furtwangler ('50 and '53), Karajan, Krauss, and Barenboim are my top picks.
Not that any of the previous pro-Karajan posts need backing-up, but here's another hat in the ring: the Karajan is awesome! Thomas Stewart is one of my favorite Wotans and with Karajan's multi-faceted conducting (very underrated on the power scale), I go back to this cycle often. As an incomplete cycle (there's a rumor that EMI has the whole cycle in their vault–why wouldn't they release this???), the '51 Bayreuth/Karajan is phenomenal! His conducting of Walkure Act 3 with Sigurd Bjorling and Varnay is inspiring. I have a feeling this would be my all-time favorite Ring if complete (Rheingold and Siegfried on Myto are in pretty decent sound).
Such hard choices!! Just reading this thread has moved some Rings in my immediate listening pile.
I hate to admit this, but I have 22 complete Ring Cycles (including the ones with the traditional cuts)–what a disease! Unfortunately, I've been lazy the last 5 years and haven't collected any recent cycles...which is probably a good thing...
Sarge, is the Thielemann worth it?
I DON'T BELIEVE THIS!!! Most Wagnerians on this forum prefer the Karajan Ring to the Solti Ring?? All I can remember is being totally dissatisfied with Karajan's Die Walkure (the voices failed to make a positive impression on me, I found it docile, I kept turning up the volume hoping that louder sound would compensate for lack of power and hence drama- forget it! It did not work). Relative to Bohm and Solti Karajan's Die Walkure is a "snooze fest". Karajan's Siegfried and Gotterdammering were major improvements but Solti's buries him 6 feet under!
Karajan's Ring is pretty, yes, the orchestral playing is beautiful, but the "energy level", and consequently the dramatic effect is at times seriously compromised by a relatively weak cast and Karajan's attempt to find the "hidden nuances" in the score. The energy level drops off almost unexpectedly at times, I find it very irritating. Wagner is all about the drama and I firmly believe that Karajan missed the boat on that one! That's why it's been dubbed the "Chamber Ring", intimate, pretty, etc.etc call it what you want........I am sorry but a docile "chamber" effect is NOT what Wagner had in mind!
Often I read that Karajan's Siegfired is the weak link in his cycle. I beg to differ, in my opinion Karajan's Die Walkure is the most seriously flawed in the context of the paragraph above.
I stand by my original recommendation: of the 3 Rings madaboutmahler was considering Solti, Karajan and Barenboim. Solti is by far the most recommendable. Although The Bohm Ring, which is one of my favorite Rings, if not my favorite should be the 1st one he buys! It can be had for £25 on amazon.co.uk. A steal! (He'll have to buy the libretto separately)
There you have it, a passionate plea from a Solti supporting Wagnerian who is finding himself more and more isolated in a Karajan obsessed Wagnerian world!