Tristan und Isolde
Live recording in stereo from
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Conductor: Karl Böhm
Tristan Wolfgang Windgassen
Isolde Birgit Nilsson
Brangäne Christa Ludwig
Kurwenal Eberhard Wächter
Marke Martti Talvela
Melot Claude Heater
Ein Hirt Erwin Wohlfahrt
Ein Seemann Peter Schreier
Ein Steuermann Gerd Nienstedt
Chor und Orchester der
Bayreuther Festspiele
Philips, 434 425-2 3 CDs ADD
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Review by Charles E. Muntz

Recorded live at the Bayreuth Festival in 1966, this performance became an instant classic when it was released. The spearhead of the cast is the great Birgit Nilsson, who brings an incredible intensity to the performance, from the terrifying curse in act 1 to the tear-wrenching Liebestod at the conclusion. Nowhere in the opera does she show signs of vocal strain or squalliness, something few, if any, of her successors can claim. Her performance rivals that of Kirsten Flagstad, who recorded it with Furtwängler in 1952.

As her Tristan she has the 52-year-old Wolfgang Windgassen. His voice lacks the heroic ring the part demands, but he sings excellently and gives a fine poetic and dramatic performance that leaves little to be desired. His long solo scenes in the third act are particularly impressive.

The minor roles are all superbly filled. Christa Ludwig is the classic Brangäne, certainly better than Thebom for Furtwängler. Martti Talvela is a noble, committed Marke who actually makes the character interesting and poignant. Eberhard Wächter sings Kurwenal with ringing conviction.

Karl Böhm gives a very exciting reading. Speeds are quite fast--fast enough that the recording fits on three discs. At times though, one wishes that Böhm would let the tension slacken and bring out some of the poetry in the score--parts of the act 2 love duet come to mind. And sometimes some of the power of the music seems passed over, something that Solti or Furtwängler seem to have a better understanding of.

The Bayreuth Orchestra plays excellently. Like the Ring from 1967, the sound tends to lack detail, and the brass could be a bit better, but all in all it is very fine. This recording is definitely one of the great Wagner recordings of all time--ranking with Soltiís Ring and the Melchior/Walter recording of Walkure Act 1. It is preferable by a slim margin over Furtwänglerís reading with Flagstad, although any lover of this work will have both.

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