Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

This addition to the Tristan sweepstakes is a great surprise and is highly recommended. It is crucial if only for the conducting of Carlos Kleiber. He recorded the work in the studio with Margaret Price and René Kollo, and while that set has much to recommend it–great clarity and beauty, and Price’s uniquely lovely Isolde–it lacks the ultimate fire that we find here, in a live relay from Bayreuth in 1974. This performance is truly stunning: coming in at just eight minutes longer than Böhm’s, it delivers the most powerful first act I’ve ever heard, with Isolde’s rage absolutely terrifying–and the rest of the opera is up to the same level of dramatic truth. The love duet is rapturous, and Tristan’s ravings in the last act bookend Isolde’s lunacy in the first. The apotheosis is appropriately heavenly.

That the cast is good is almost a side note. Catarina Ligendza’s Isolde is very telling–an impulsive princess. Her voice is not particularly pretty–it’s a bit chilly and lacks breadth–but her accuracy, stamina, and reading of the text are second to none. Helge Brilioth, a fine tenor whose career was too short, at times is stressed as Tristan; but his soft singing in the second act is very handsome, his pointed delivery of the text is admirable, and he gives the last act everything he’s got. He sings under the note enough to be problematic and annoying, but the overall impression his Tristan gives is positive. Kurt Moll’s Marke and Yvonne Minton’s Brangaene are excellent in every way. The Kurwenal of Donald McIntyre is rougher than necessary. I don’t know why, but the sound measures up to today’s standards. Certainly there are more impressively sung performances of this opera available, but the absolute commitment you get here is unique. This is a bargain and a near-great performance.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Furtwängler/Flagstad (EMI)

RICHARD WAGNER - Tristan und Isolde


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