Putting Wagner's epic tetralogy, Der Ring des Nibelungen, on disc only became possible in the middle of the 20th century, with the advent of the long-playing record. But size was not the only consideration; the awesome orchestral and dramatic effects called for in Wagner's score demanded a producer of enormous skill and creative resourcefulness. Decca had just the man in John Culshaw, who turned the first installment (Das Rheingold, released in 1958) into an audio spectacular -- the perfect vehicle for hi-fi enthusiasts to test and show off their new stereophonic systems. The project took seven years to complete and became one of the great monuments in the history of sound recording. Starting with the venerable Vienna Philharmonic, led by the dynamic Georg Solti, Decca assembled the cast for each opera with enormous care. Kirsten Flagstad, the Brünnhilde of an earlier generation, came out of retirement to sing Fricka in Rheingold; Joan Sutherland made a cameo appearance as the Forest Bird in Siegfried; and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the great lieder singer, took on the role of Gunther in Götterdämmerung. Many critics gave Solti credit for the recording's success, but the real hero of this Ring was Culshaw. From the ear-crushing din of the dwarves' hammers in Rheingold to the awesome collapse of Valhalla at the end of Götterdämmerung, Culshaw found the means for listeners to visualize in their mind's eye the action on stage. There have been some impressive recordings of the Ring in the intervening years -- most notably from Von Karajan (DG), Böhm (Philips), and Levine (DG), the latter two recorded live -- but none matches the sonic vividness and excitement of this classic Decca set. Note: There is a fascinating BBC-made film called The Golden Ring that is about the making of Götterdämmerung, and it deepens one's appreciation for both Culshaw and Solti's achievement. Culshaw also published an absorbing account of the recording sessions titled Ring Resounding (now out of print but used copies are available).