Tristan und Isolde
Studio recording in mono
July 10-21 & 23, 1952
Conductor: Wilhelm Furtwängler
Tristan Ludwig Suthaus
Isolde Kirsten Flagstad
Brangäne Blanche Thebom
Kurwenal Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Marke Josef Greindl
Melot Edgar Evans
Ein Hirt Rudolf Schock
Ein Seemann Rudolf Schock
Ein Steuermann Rhoderick Davies
Philharmonia Orchestra
Chorus of the Royal Operahouse, Covent Garden
EMI, CMS 5 67621 2 4 CDs ADD
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Review by Charles E. Muntz

Wilhelm Furtwängler was considered by many to be one of the greatest Wagner conductors of all time. His readings were famous for their dark, brooding nature, emphasizing the spiritual qualities of the works. And while I feel that the Ring is a dramatic work and should be played as such, his approach seems tailor-made for Tristan. This is one of the most moving and powerful recordings ever made. Every phrase has a sensuous quality to it. The whole works seems completely unified and, despite its length, too short. The Philharmonia responds beautifully to Furtwängler, although he had a better orchestra in the Vienna Philharmonic for Die Walküre two years later.

For his Isolde Furtwängler had the greatest Wagner soprano of this century, Kirsten Flagstad. Even though she was 57 at the time, her golden voice is still in remarkable shape. Every phrase, every utterance has deep power and feeling to it. One of recording historyís most enduring oddities is that Flagstad refused to sing the two high C's in Act 2 because she felt she was vocally no longer capable of them. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sang them.

Furtwängler is less fortunate in his Tristan. Ludwig Suthaus has the heroic ring to his voice that Wolfgang Windgassen lacks and he brings plenty of drama to his reading. But Windgassen has more poetry, lyricism, and feeling and I think is ultimately a substantially more moving Tristan.

Of the minor roles the best is Fischer-Dieskauís beautifully sung Kurwenal. Josef Greindl makes a fine Marke but is not as moving as Talvela is for Böhm. Blanche Thebom does little with Brangäne.

The mono recording is good, but Flagstad seems to fade away much too frequently, especially during Act 1. Another annoyance is that the remastered edition has the wrong tracks listed in the booklet. The opera comes on four discs at full price and I think the three disc, mid-price stereo Bohm is a better first choice for this opera. But if this music means something to you, go out and buy it.




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