Wagner: Tristan/Price, Kollo/Kleiber

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

There is rapture in every measure of Carlos Kleiber’s reading of this score, sometimes of the transcendent, gentle type, sometimes of the manic, ravishing sort. The string playing during Tristan’s last-act rantings is almost terrifying in its intensity; an act earlier during the Love Duet the accompanying and singing is legato and Italianate in a way no other conductor seems to manage. Tempos tend to be swift, but there’s no sense of rushing–Kleiber allows the music to pitch and swell in a most organic way, enabling the story to unfold inevitably and naturally. His lovers are clearly involved in an intimate tragedy.

Margaret Price, who never sang Isolde on stage, was a superb Mozartian, Straussian, and sometime Verdian. The voice is ripe but never strained, and always beautiful; if you’ve only heard “Wagnerian” sopranos in this role, Price will surprise and seduce you. René Kollo sounds impetuous as Tristan–mostly youthful but with an occasionally unfortunate bleat–and his delirium is vivid and painfully honest (I don’t mean this as a critique). Fischer-Dieskau’s Kurwenal is over-emphasized–hardly a phrase escapes a crescendo and diminuendo. Brigitte Fassbaender varies between sounding overparted and quite lovely. And Kurt Moll’s Marke is pretty overwhelming: his long monologue begins at a whisper and then builds and wanes, involving us entirely. The rest of the cast, as well as the orchestra and chorus, are excellent. In this early-1980s recording the singers get a great deal of help from the engineers, who boost them whenever necessary.

Having heaped all of this praise, I must add that true Wagnerians, myself included, may feel a bit short-changed in the sheer power department: Price and Kollo seem lightweight compared to the likes of Nilsson, Flagstad, Mödl, and Vickers or Suthaus, and you could argue that Kleiber’s hugely vigorous account of the score lacks the gravitas of Furtwängler or Karajan, or the sure-footed intensity of Böhm. But there’s no way to seriously take issue with this set; it’s a beautifully conceived and executed performance.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Nilsson/Böhm (Philips)

RICHARD WAGNER - Tristan und Isolde

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