Bernstein is the star
Jim Player | Rochester, NY, USA | 09/29/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Of the many Tristans available, this is probably the most passionate...and maybe the longest. Recorded one act at a time in three seperate semi-staged performances, it catches the performers in fresh voice, somewhat. Behrens was ill for Act 3 and her Liebestod had to be re-recorded as she choked her way through during the actual live performance. Not the dominating force that Flagstad and Nilsson were, she is a wonderful vocal actress though plagued with a phlegmatic middle, weaker lower register, yet amazingly brilliant high notes.Peter Hoffman, though youthful in voice and terrific in looks, remains adequate. He was never really secure vocally and his effective singing career was very brief. Here he is not alone in showing what a fiendishly difficult role Tristan is. There are very few who can navigate the role without serious limitations, such as Melchior, Vinay, Vickers or Windgassen. Hoffman will be remembered more for his Parsifal and Lohengrin than this Mount Everest of the tenor repretoire.The rest of the cast ranges from good to adequate...Sotin is boring, while Minton sings well with less than sumptuous tone, and Weikl is a serviceable Kurwenal.The real star of this set is Bernstein who conducts the score as written, with the prelude done in true Langsam. Karl Böhm stopped in during the rehearsal for the Prelude and later sent Bernstein a note: "At last someone performs Tristan the way it was meant to be...the rest of us never dared to!"While Karajan's studio set is sumptuous, albeit too pristine and recorded with two much engineering, and Böhm's is really too energetic, Bernstein may be too passionate. That isn't always a bad thing. The orchestra playing is simply divine, the Liebesnacht heavenly, Tristan's death devestating on a cosmic level, and the Liebestod exquisitely rapturous.The 5 disc set which I own has a disastorous cut in Act 2 which destroys the mood while changing sides, but otherwise while not a desert island set, it is one that will surely transport the listener into another realm. Ideally it's best late at night with no interruptions, preferabaly with headphones."
Desert Island Tristan
Scott Jelsey | Houston, TX United States | 07/17/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Bernstein conducts this score like no other - this is the most intensely beautiful reading on record. Behrens was in great voice in 1980 and perfectly captures the conflicting emotions of Isolde. Her Liebestod is one of the most emotional on disc (and I have about 7 Tristans so far...), the voice in gleaming form, quite effortless on high. Hofmann strains some in Act III, but who doesn't? His voice has a nice ring to it and he is definitely "into" the character of Tristan - an impressive performance overall. Yvonne Minton is an effective Brangane, if slightly light-voiced for the role. The live recording is from a concert reading, so the early digital sound is excellent with virtually no audience or stage noise. Bernstein's measured, agonized interpretation is the real star here though, with the opera's final chords sounding as no one else ever has, a timeless coming together, the four notes seeming to somehow play themselves... Don't miss this one!"
Thankfully, Many TRISTAN Recordings Exist...and this is one
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 12/10/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"TRISTAN UND ISOLDE is one of the most important musical compositions of all time: it is unquestionably Wagner's masterpiece. The demands of this four and a half-hour long opera are cruel to conductor and to singers alike. Making a credible staged performance of this opera is another challenge as there is very little action in the story. There are legendary tales of how portraying the cruel vocal demands of Tristan has driven some tenors to death, that the perfect Isolde will never be born, etc.
Fortunately today we have several complete recordings of this mammoth, wondrous work with conductors from Furtwangler, Bohm, Levine to name only a few. This reading is conducted by Leonard Bernstein during concert performances of each act using the Bayreuth Orchestra and Peter Hofmann, Hildegard Behrens, Yvonne Minton, Hans Sotin, Bernd Weikl - you get the idea: these are some of the most potent of forces in the day these recordings were made.
The concept of recording individual acts in concert performance is a sound one: there is the excitement of a live performance without the usual wear and tear on the performers. And still in the realm of ecstasy from the Los Angeles Philharmonic's recent THE TRISTAN PROJECT in which Esa-Pekka Salonen presided over an erotically magnificent, sonically transcendent performance of one act per night on three successive nights (aided by the brilliant Isolde of Christine Brewer, the rapt Tristan of Clifton Forbis and the wonder of Jill Grove, Stephen Milling, Alan Held, and Thomas Studebaker singing from various stations throughout the acoustically perfect Disney Hall by director Peter Sellars and enhanced by the video moods of artist Bill Viola), I return to the many recordings of Tristan, longing to have what happened in Los Angeles committed to record.
Bernstein pulls all the passion from the score and spills it into your ears. Some may argue about his tempi (on the slow side) but the overall result works. These are not the singers for the definitive Tristan or Isolde, but each has so many radiant moments that the steel rod ascendancy of the demanding lines can comfortably take a back seat, This is a recording that captures the ecstasy and passion and sheer beauty of Wagner's score and invites us just to bask in it.
Not my favorite recording of Tristan, but this one certainly deserves more attention than it receives. Bernstein is being taken more seriously as a conductor since his death: this is a recording that should be included in a discography of his best. Grady Harp, December 2004"