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Subject: Re: "Tristan" Recordings
From: Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 3 Jan 2018 17:04:38 -0800
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The Böhm/Bayreuth recording issued by DGG is one I’ve had difficulty warming to. I loved, loved, LOVED Nilsson’s Isolde live and, particularly, performances I saw her do with Windgassen. But, for me, the recording captures a good bit of the power and excitement of her singing, but little of the actual beauty and warmth. I just want more fullness, richness and sensitivity to the contours of the music, so much of it lying in the middle and lower reaches of the voice, than what I hear from her on the recording. 

That said, my main reservation about the performance is Böhm’s conducting. I find it moves in fits and starts, never capturing the great line or the sheer scale and majesty that Furtwängler does. Furtwängler’s isn’t the only way to do it, as is shown clearly by the Kleiber, which I also find a very satisfying experience. It also seems to me that Böhm didn’t seem to get nearly the quality of playing from the orchestra assembled at Bayreuth in 1966 or 1967 (also applies to the “Ring” released commercially) that Knappertsbusch, Sawallisch and others had. Maybe it’s just the particular personnel who were available those years.

I agree with the other Max’s comments on the Solti set. I think it’s unfortunate that Solti didn’t get around to recording it again, because I think we’d have gotten a much better interpretation a decade or more later from him.

Nilsson had just felt very burnt by her experience with the contract with UK Columbia. They had promised her both a “Ring” and a “Tristan” and they let her go in 1959 when it was clear that they weren’t going to record either. She felt she’d been given the run-around and therefore, in negotiating with Decca, stipulated that a “Tristan” recording had to be at least begun within a year of contract signing. As Max says, Decca were under the gun. At that time in 1960, Windgassen was still under contract to DGG. Some of the engineering on that set is terrific - the Prelude with the horns playing full out in a way they never could if they had to continue to play a full performance of the opera, and the hunting horns receding into the distance in Act 2. But too much of the handling of singers is just plain strange with Brangäne too far in the distance for her watch.

A good bit of this was also Culshaw’s stubbornness and insistence on pushing Solti forward at the expense of all others. After Karajan signed with Decca, also in 1959, Decca could have, and should have, recorded the cast of the 1960 Vienna State Opera production with Nilsson and Windgassen conducted by Karajan. 

Speaking of which, what eventually became the Leinsdorf London based “Walküre” recording, started out leveraging Karajan’s Vienna Ring. In 1961 it was announced that RCA would release a “Die Walküre” with Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and featuring Nilsson, Vickers, Rysanek and Hotter as soloists.

Max Paley

> On Jan 3, 2018, at 3:14 PM, Max D. Winter <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
> I agree with comments on the "Tosca" thread, that the Furtwangler "Tristan" is very special.  
> I find Suthaus quite good, if not on the exalted level as Flagstad and the conductor.
> 
> But for the most satisfactory recording of "Tristan" over all - singing, sound, conducting, 
> drama, excitement - I keep coming back to the Bohm/Nilsson/Windgassen recording from 
> Bayreuth in the mid-60s.  There is a thrill in that live performance (compilation of 
> performances and rehearsals, actually) that is really something.  After all, the musicians 
> had been performing in that production together for several years.  And while I would give 
> Flagstad in her prime the edge over Nilsson, vocally - richer voice - the latter is just 
> flattening in that Bohm recording. 
> 
> I also love the Keliber recording with Margaret Price and Rene Kollo.  Yes, it is a product of 
> the recording studio - no way Price could have sung the role in performance - but what a 
> lyrical, passionate Isolde she is for the mikes!  Great conducting, too. 
> 
> I have never cared much for the Solti studio recording with Nilsson.  Solti's conducting is all 
> wham-bam energy with little depth (an example of what Wieland Wagner once referred to 
> as "Solti and his orgasms every other bar").  The tenor, Fritz Uhl, is unsatisfactory and is on 
> the recording because, weak though he is, he was the best Decca could find under pressure.  
> The recording was made at Nilsson's insistence.  Decca begged her to put it off until they 
> could get Windgassen, who was unavailable, but she insisted and refused to continue with 
> the Ring unless they did "Tristan."  Resnik was suffering from a bad head cold and sounds 
> like it.  Finally, I have never liked what Culshaw and the recording team did with the voice-
> orchestra balance.
> 
> MDW
> 
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