Four New York Times critics have published lists of their favorite Wagner recordings. I concur with several of the choices and understand the rationale for others. I thought I'd list a few Wagnerian touchstones of my own — purely personal selections, of course, although the first two are presented with near-dogmatic conviction. If a universal deluge were consuming my record collection and all recordings on earth, I would probably reach first for the Furtwängler Tristan.
Tristan und Isolde; Kirsten Flagstad, Ludwig Suthaus, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Blanche Thebom, Josef Greindl, Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Royal Opera House Chorus (EMI)
Der Ring des Nibelungen; Astrid Varnay, Hans Hotter, Ramón Vinay, Wolfgang Windgassen, Joseph Keilberth conducting the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus, 1955 (Testament)
Parsifal; Jess Thomas, Hans Hotter, Irene Dalis, George London, Hans Knappertsbusch conducting the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus, 1962 (Decca)
[Hotter was no longer in his prime when this recording was made — the 1951 live version from Bayreuth finds him at his peak — but something about the atmosphere of it is incomparable.]
Der fliegende Holländer; Hans Hotter, Viorica Ursuleac, Clemens Krauss conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra and Opera Chorus, 1944 (Preiser)
Tannhäuser (Paris version); René Kollo, Helga Dernesch, Christa Ludwig, Victor Braun, Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Chorus (Decca)
Lohengrin; Jess Thomas, Elisabeth Grümmer, Christa Ludwig, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Rudolf Kempe conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Chorus (EMI)
Die Meistersinger; Thomas Stewart, Sándor Konya, Gundula Janowitz, Thomas Hemsley, Rafael Kubelik conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Arts Music)
Der Ring des Nibelungen; Gwyneth Jones, Donald McIntyre, Peter Hofmann, Jeannine Altmeyer, Pierre Boulez conducting the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus, Patrice Chéreau directing (DG DVD)
Les Introuvables du Chant Wagnérien (EMI)
Tristan und Isolde; Nina Stemme, Stephen Gould, Kwangchul Youn, Michelle Breedt, Johan Reuter, Marek Janowski conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (PentaTone)
I append this last as evidence that first-rate Wagner recordings are not extinct, although they are undeniably fewer and farther between than in the nineteen-fifties and sixties.