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Subject: Re: Best Tristan recording
From: [log in to unmask]
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Date:Tue, 25 Oct 2011 14:50:14 -0500
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I largely concur with Max Paley's assessments.  Setting Flagstad / Furtwangler aside as something close to untouchable, and limiting myself to singers who recorded the opera in the Stereo era, I could imagine an ideal match up of Margaret Price, Jon Vickers, Christa Ludwig, Rene Pape, and D F Dieskau with either Karajan or Kleiber conducting.

In terms of non-commercial, historical recordings, a favorite of mine is Flagstad / Svanholm / Kleiber from Buenos Aires, 1948.  The passionate intensity (yes, Flagstad could deliver this when caught up in the moment...) and seamless unity of purpose these musicians achieve in the Act 2 Liebesnacht breaks through the compromised sonics to leave the listener with a breathless emotional charge.  So alive is the cumulative effect that it is very easy to feel at one with that audience from more than 60 years ago.

Steve Charitan
Hudson, OH

---- Max Paley <[log in to unmask]> wrote: 
> If absolutely pressed for a single favorite opera, mine is probably "Tristan und Isolde."
> 
> For me, even with some obvious flaws, there's only one recording that I find fully and consistently satisfies.  This is the June, 1952 studio recording produced by Walter Legge for HMV (a switch for him, since he normally operated on the Columbia side of EMI) conducted by WIlhelm Furtwängler with Flagstad, Suthaus, Thebom, Fischer-Dieskau and Greindl.  The main deficiencies are the mono sound (which I find creates a big and full "soundstage" for the orchestra, but in which singers sometimes fade in and out frustratingly - my guess is that this was due to frequent knob-twiddling) and some lack of freedom in Flagstad's upper register compared to her work in the 1930's.
> 
> I don't agree with those who consider Suthaus a deficiency, nor do I share complaints that this would have been a better performance with Furtwängler conducting one of "his" orchestras (the Berlin Philharmonic or Vienna Philharmonic).  The other target of criticism, which I absolutely don't share, is of the casting of Thebom as Brangäne - I find her singing stunningly beautiful, particularly in the "Einsam wachend in der Nacht."
> 
> I think it's Furtwängler's masterpiece, played with richness and majesty by the Philharmonia, in the tension and coherence he achieves even in relatively broad and spacious tempi.  Both Flagstad and Suthaus sing with a consistent beauty and musical sensitivity that is not, for my ear, matched by any of the later recordings.  In Flagstad's case, the diminution in freedom and resonance of the top voice is compensated by the remarkable filling out of the lower voice that happened in her later years and, in this recording at least, by a wealth of inflection and specificity that simply aren't there in Met or Royal Opera performances from the 1930's.   Whether these musical and dramatic subtleties and insights were brought out by Furtwängler or by Legge's coaching (whatever else one might no like about him, he was an expert at getting soloists to sound good and convey meaning and emotion for a microphone), I think the result is phenomenal.  I usually loathe the term "definitive" but I apply it to her singing in this recording to some key passages:  "Mir erkoren, mir verloren," the Narrative's "Er sah mir in die Augen" the Act 2 statement to Brangäne about "Frau Minne" and the Liebestod.
> 
> The high C's?  No, I don't really like Schwarzkopf putting her high C in place of Flagstad's.  I only notice this really on the second one.  I'm completely convinced, now that I've got the sound system I do, that I'm hearing Flagstad actually sing the first one with Schwarzkopf serving as "reinforcement" (she actually sounds to me like a bit of fuzziness around Flagstad's note) but that is definitely Schwarzkopf's feather-light attack on the second one rather than Flagstad's imposing one.  As to Legge's later comments about Schwarzkopf also having "sung the B's and B-flats for Flagstad" - Schwarzkopf may have been singing along with Flagstad on those, but it's Flagstad you hear.
> 
> The "Tristan" recording wrapped up two days ahead of schedule.  The remaining two days were used to make a couple of magnificent recordings in the same hall with the same orchestra and conductor.  One was the Immolation Scene with Flagstad, which features some of the same annoying knob-twiddling and was produced by Legge.  The other is the spectacularly clear (reminds you of some of those early Mercury "Living Presence" recordings) recording of the Mahler "Songs of a Wayfarer"  sung by Fischer-Dieskau.  The engineer was the same for all (Douglas Larter) but Lawrence Collingwood stepped in to produce the Mahler songs.  Furtwängler was so fed up with Legge by that time that he swore to never work with him again.
> 
> For a next choice in "modern" sound (now around 30 years old), I go for the Carlos Kleiber studio version.  Margaret Price's crystalline soprano would never have worked in this role on stage (a friend asked her, after the recording, if she was planning to do it on stage and she, in her typical style said "Are you f**king crazy?").  The Kleiber reading isn't broad and majestic like Furtwängler's;  it's edgy and neurotic and it gets under your skin.
> 
> What about Nilsson?  I was overwhelmed by her Isolde on stage.  I haven't yet heard a recording that captures anything like what that experience was.  On the DGG issue taken from Bayreuth rehearsals with Böhm, I find the sound and miking capture the power and intensity of her voice, but not the beauty.  In fact, I don't like the sound on that recording nearly as well as, say, the 1962 Philips Knappertsbusch "Parsifal" or even the Böhm "Ring."  I'm guessing it must have been some particular choice of microphones or setup used by DGG.  My main problem with this recording is Böhm:  I find the reading often tense without conveying Kleiber's power and force and overall lacking in weight.  As in the "Ring" issued by Philips, I'm often surprised by how poor the playing is, compared with the kind of playing other conductors (like Knappertsbusch, Sawallisch and even Boulez)  got from these pick-up summer ensembles.
> 
> I do go back and listen to Karajan's approach, both in 1952 at Bayreuth and the 1971 Berlin studio recording.  The 1952 has powerful singing (even with a few musical mistakes) by Mödl and very good singing by Vinay, some of his best.  Of the versions I've heard of this, the best-sounding one is the Orfeo d'Or taken from the Bayerische Rundfunk tapes.  The playing of the Berlin Philharmonic in the 1971 recording is enough of a glory to justify it, even if the singing weren't as good as it is.  As it is, I find Dernesch always at least acceptable and often more than that.  If Vickers' performance is a pale ghost of what I saw him do a decade later under Colin Davis in London, his singing is still lustrously beautiful.  With my current sound system, I'm able to enjoy the depth of the soundstage and the effect when the singers move to the back of that stage during the Liebesnacht;  on the system I had when this recording first came out, I found the singers to be too often drowned out and was irritated by the way they seemed to come and go.
> 
> I saw the Munich concert in the Herkulessaal from which the first act of the Bernstein was derived and there is much of value in that recording overall.  My problem with it is that Hoffman, who looked better than he sounded at least on that occasion, gets increasingly inadequate as the opera proceeds.
> 
> The Solti studio recording suffers from an inadequate Tristan, Solti's explosively nervous energy, and a recording that is at times magnificent and at times makes you want to throw it out the window.  Too bad he never quite got around to remarking it 20 or 30 years later.
> 
> Max Paley
> 
> 
> On Oct 25, 2011, at 7:25 AM, James Camner wrote:
> 
> > What do members of the list consider to be the best Tristan und Isolde
> > recording?
> > 
> > Is it the Furtwangler? Bohm? Thielemann? Reiner? Other (s)?
> > 
> > What is the best one in reasonably modern (stereo at least) sound? Best
> > historical?
> > 
> > I don't think this has been covered on the list in a while (I did an
> > archives search) but apologies if I'm mistaken.
> > 
> > There is a mesmerizing and haunting new film by Lars Von Trier "Melancholia"
> > which uses the music of Tristan very effectively (IMHO).
> > 
> > http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1527186/
> > 
> 
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