Studio recording in stereo
October 3-21, 1970
Conductor: Georg Solti
Landgraf Hermann Hans Sotin
Tannhäuser René Kollo
Wolfram Victor Braun
Walther Werner Hollweg
Biterolf Manfred Jungwirth
Heinrich Kurt Equiluz
Reinmar Norman Bailey
Elisabeth Helga Dernesch
Venus Christa Ludwig
Ein junger Hirt N. N.
Wiener Philharmoniker
Chor der Wiener Staatsoper
Decca, 414 581-2 3 CDs ADD
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Review by John Sullivan

Having listened to most of Sir Georg Solti's Wagner recordings, I must say this isn't quite a contender for his best. But, considering Solti's achievements in Wagner's operas have been magnificent, that doesn't mean this Tannhäuser is a bad recording at all; in fact, this is an excellent recording of Wagner's fifth opera.

It was a great idea to use the Paris (1861) version, as opposed to the Dresden version of 1845. Some people have said that the Paris revisions (which include the substantial lengthening of the opening Venusberg scene) make the rest of the score pale in comparison, but I don't agree. I think Tannhäuser becomes a much better opera when the Paris version is used. The interesting note by the producer, Ray Minshull, explains the choices they used under the "umbrella-title" of Paris version, including the decision to use the continuous version of the Overture/Bacchanale.

Solti's direction of the work is superbly inspired and wonderfully evocative, from the frenzied excitement of the Bacchanale to the majesty of the pilgrims' choruses. He has far and away been my favorite Wagner conductor since I first heard his Ring Cycle, and this recording did nothing to change that view. The orchestra is the phenomenal Vienna Philharmonic. It is probably the greatest Wagner orchestra ever, and there is terrific work from both the Vienna State Opera and Vienna Boys' Choruses. The vocal performances are not quite as good, though.

René Kollo in the title role is hardly ideal (though he was probably the best Heldentenor around when this recording was made in 1970). He gives a good interpretation of the part, but his rather dry, effortful singing subtracts from enjoyment. He is at his best in the quieter, lyrical portions of the score, but his shortcomings are highlighted next to the wonderfully creamy singing of Christa Ludwig. She IS Venus, in every way. End of discussion.

Though I think Helga Dernesch isn't quite powerful enough for Isolde and Brünnhilde, her singing as Elisabeth is excellent. Her voice is just about perfect for the character: slightly steely, with a slight vibrato through her entire register, and her reading is heartfelt and sympathetic.

Hans Sotin, near the beginning of his career, is in fantastic form as the Landgrave. His interpretation is superb and his voice is beautifully resonant, especially in lower registers. Victor Braun is an acceptable Wolfram, but his tight vibrato becomes somewhat annoying at the top of his range.

The supporting cast is good to excellent, with an actual boy as the shepherd in Act I (though he is rather rudely not credited anywhere in the set). The minstrel/knights are particularly good.

Overall, this an excellent recording of Tannhäuser, and one that I shall return to again and again.