Tristan und Isolde
Studio recording in stereo
Conductor: Leonard Bernstein
Tristan Peter Hofmann
Isolde Hildegard Behrens
Brangäne Yvonne Minton
Kurwenal Bernd Weikl
Marke Hans Sotin
Melot Heribert Steinbach
Ein Hirt Heinz Zednik
Ein Seemann Thomas Moser
Ein Steuermann Raimund Grumbach
Chor und Sinfonieorchester des
Bayerischen Rundfunks
Philips, 438 241-2 4 CDs DDD
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Review by Graham Clark

Bernstein has made very few opera recordings, which is truly a shame. This is one of his finest recordings of all. This was the first Tristan on CD in fact, though it comes on five instead of four discs. Philips in fact reissued this recording on four discs, but the price is outrageous.

Berstein, who has a reputation as a wild man when it comes to some pieces, is here very reflective. The stress he put on his singers to act the part as well as sing it in the studio creates a true dramatic sense despite slow tempi, and the murky approach to the music truly gives a picture of the dark medieval order which the opera focuses on. The conducting is never too slow, however, and Bernstein, while laying bare every detail of the music, gives a true sense of tension. The orchestra works well with him (he was known for getting on the good side of the most indifferent orchestras. Even the VPO loved him!)

In my opinion, the singing could also hardly be improved upon. Peter Hofmann was for a while the great hope for the future of Heldentenors, he was a great actor, looked the parts, and sang well (too bad he never got around to Siegfried). Unfortunately he ruined his voice with an overstressed work load, and several attempts at the role of Siegmund, a role to which his voice was not really suited. Here he is captured in his prime. His tragic irony bites, his raging is fearful, and his heroic outbursts are for once genuine sounding.

Isolde is also great. Hildegard Behrens does not, by any means, have the vocal power that Nilsson could offer, but excels in a more timid and human portrait of the princess than Nilsson's masquarading Valkyrie. As the lesser female and male duo (Brangäne/Kurwenal), Minton and Weikl make a truly sympathetic yet dramatic pair. Amoung the others, Hans Sotin is a wonderful King Marke. The only slight weakness is a slightly overstressed Melot.

Whatever the critics say, I consider this recording to certainly be Karajan's equal, if not Böhm's. Happy listening!

This review is from the now closed Wagner on the Web and it is published without the author's consent. I haven't been able to get in touch with him. If the author reads this, please contact me as soon as possible. If you don't want it here, I'll take it of the site immediately.