"Whatever reservations one may have about this performance, it is good to have it reissued on CD at such a reasonable price. The remastering reduces the number of CDs from four to three--one for each act of the opera--and the ability to hear each act without interruption is a real advantage. The digital sound remains outstanding. The booklet is a stripped-down version of the one that accompanied the original (full-priced) CD edition: it still contains the libretto and translation, although the typeface is rather small.
The reviews of the four-disc set posted elsewhere on this site cover most of the ground. Kleiber and the orchestra are magnificent, and the singing of Brigitte Fassbaender and Kurt Moll is hard to find fault with. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has his rough and gruff moments, but it can be argued that Kurwenal is that kind of a person.
Rene Kollo's Tristan is efficient enough, although the overall impression is rather monochromatic, and he tenses up at some of the climaxes.
For many listeners, the performance will stand or fall based on Margaret Price's highly individual Isolde. She has a large voice, but it is consistently soft-grained and flutey in timbre, with a very narrow vibrato. The low notes often have a curious "veiled" quality and do not always project well--even on this excellently engineered studio recording, there are a few moments when the orchestra covers her. Her enunciation of the German text is not always ideally distinct. For some listeners, her essentially laid-back temperament may not be fierce enough for parts of this role (e.g., Isolde's angry outbursts in Act One). Nevertheless, the fact remains that she sings the entire role without a moment of strain, unsteadiness, or insecure intonation. That is a feat in itself, and her phrasing is always musical and beautiful (of her recorded rivals, only Flagstad equals her in mastery of legato).
I doubt that any one performance of Tristan und Isolde could ever do full justice to the work. To repeat: the low cost of this reissue makes it a worthwhile addition to any collection of complete opera recordings, particularly as a supplemental version of this particular work."
The Ultimate Tristan und Isolde? Quite Possibly!
Joseph Kimsey | Pac NW | 08/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a definitive example of the sum being much greater than its parts. I bought this on a whim because I've always loved Kleiber's conducting, and Tristan und Isolde is my favorite opera.
Still, I didn't expect that much, mainly because a) when people talk about the ultimate Tristan recording, they NEVER mention this one. We always hear about Furtwangler and Bohm, with Karajan mentioned some, while Solti's attempt has been almost universally panned (not by me, by the way) b) Rene Kollo is an excellent heldentenor, but I was lead to believe (mistakenly) that Tristan was out of his league, and c) who is Margaret Price?
Kleiber's Tristan doesn't have the vocal fireworks of Furtwangler, nor the steamy passion of Bohm, but it does possess a cohesiveness that both conductors lack. The Dresden orchestra has a massive sound, but unlike the Bohm version, we never lose any orchestral details.
There is a certain menace to this Tristan that is wholly lacking from the others that I've heard. The monumental love duet in Act II has a frightening beauty, and the orgasmic conclusion to that same duet is most intense that I've heard. The beginning of Act III is painfully desolate, and Isolde's Leibestod the most transcendental.
Kollo and Price are a woefully underrated Tristan and Isolde. Kollo sounds heroic, yet doomed and resigned (which is what Wagner had in mind all along), while Price is the most feminine Isolde on disc. Although I love the Nilson and Flagstad performances, it's nice to hear Isolde as an Irish princess, instead of a Nordic valkyrie, for a change.
This set comes with full libretto, and each act is sensibly placed on a single disc. Although some wouldn't agree, this Tristan is essential."
My Favorite Studio 'Tristan' -- but not the best!
Haas | Brooklyn | 08/15/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There are so many 'Tristan' recordings out there. Are they all necessary? Absolutely. Are they all worth the price? Probably not. First things first: if you don't own the (sometimes over-hyped) Furtwangler recording from EMI, get it. It's magical. This Kleiber set, however, might be my overall favorite studio 'Tristan.' It is an imaginative modern experiment with inspired conducting and a superbly committed cast, plus digital sound at budget re-issue price. At the end of the day, it's all a matter of taste, but I say give the underdog a try.
For me, the most exciting and generally best conducted 'Tristans' tend to be live. Think about it: the young(er) Flagstad/Melchior combo with Reiner at Covent Garden, then the magnificent Erich Kleiber in Buenos Aires (also with Flagstad), and of course the famous Nilsson/Windgassen pairing for Bohm in 1966 (the essential complement to the Furtwangler, if only for Ludwig and Talvela). Sometimes poor sound quality and sadly muted singing can hinder the listening experience. But these conductors, especially E. Kleiber, had a strong sense of thematic unity and structure, which is oddly difficult to capture in the studio (though Furtwangler does it brilliantly). It comes as no surprise that Erich's son would get the job done right later in the century.
Carlos Kleiber had a daring, inventive flair in the studio, demonstrated by his 1973 'Freischutz' all the way to this 'Tristan' from 1982. Some choices might seem controversial (e.g. using actors to read dialogue parts on his `Freischutz'), but he used the studio to great advantage--and rarely fails to draw the listener in immediately and hold attention. Yes, his reading here has been augmented by modern sound technology--but isn't that what Wagner would have done? Wagner wanted an Art of the Future, so why keep him in the nineteenth century? What's more, this isn't at all like the first digital opera recording, Solti's Figaro, which only skims the surface of Mozart's noble music and complex, zany characters. Carlos Kleiber's 'Tristan' features a deeply introspective reading of the score, sensitive playing from the Staatskapelle Dresden (my favorite orchestra), and astoundingly resonant performances from the singer-actors.
Apparently Price's Isolde tends to make or break the experience: don't let that happen. She sings passionately and beautifully as Isolde, with firm, flexible, youthful-sounding voice and clear intonation. Her acting is also impressive: listen to her "Ich bin's" in the last act and you'll see what I mean. No, she couldn't have sung the role on stage - but please, why is that even part of the argument? It's just as asinine as the Flagstad/Schwarzkopf debate for Furtwangler. Get over it. Similarly, Rene Kollo is certainly no match for, say, Jon Vickers, but that kind of singing isn't needed for this 'Tristan.' He sings ardently, if a little uncomfortably at times, but he is certainly on par with Windgassen (for Bohm) and even Suthaus (for Furtwangler). Fassbaender is remarkable as Brangaene, rivaled only by Ludwig (for Bohm and Karajan). Stiff competition notwithstanding from Talvela, Weber and Ridderbusch, Moll is truly heartfelt as Marke, and certainly on par with Greindl. The uber-experienced Fischer-Dieskau completes the surprisingly well-rounded cast.
Do your homework and get the best 'Tristan' for you. For other great studio work, be sure to look at the Furtwangler and the Karajan, but this recording is something special. Highly recommended. "
J. Anderson | Monterey, CA USA | 12/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As many of the reviews on this page testify, diehard Wagnerites live and breathe a world of their own when it comes to recordings of his monumental operas, especially Tristan und Isolde, and more power to them. As a musician who has resisted Wagner for most of my life, this recording - specifically the refulgent singing of Welsh soprano Margaret Price and the luminous conducting of Carlos Kleiber - is a revelation in every way, clearing away my every objection to the gigantic sound world of Wagner, and creating a kind of conversion to what this composer's music really means. I'm grateful for this. Price, whose singing I've long admired, is called a 'lyrical Isolde', a 'youthful sounding Isolde', an Isolde of 'beautiful sound' in contradistinction, apparently, to the Isoldes of Nilsson and Flagstad, hinting of course that Price's is an Italianate Isolde. Yet, when I read Wagner's score, I find Margaret Price inhabiting every corner of it with unbridled lustre of tone and committment, hardly something contraindicated by the composer. Indeed, hers is a fully human Isolde, noble, passionate, and surely one of this singer's finest performances on disc. I challenge any listener, even the most committed Wagnerite, to listen to her singing of Mild und leise wie er lachelt and find anything but a radiant exposition of a magnificent score. Margaret Price commits the wondrous act of warming Wagner all the way down to his human self, saving, not weakening, every ounce of his musical and dramatic intention, making it greater than many, even many ardent Wagnerites, ever imagined. She indeed forges new ground with her interpretation, revealing deeply Wagner's truth as an artist, despite whatever human flaws he may or may not have borne. As a result, Isolde is understood in a completely vital way, and so is Wagner's genius. It's equally clear that as supreme as Price's singing is she could not have achieved this amazing recording without riding on the gleaming musicianship of Carlos Kleiber, without doubt one of the last century's most revealing conductors. His attention to every detail never wavers, serves the magnificent whole, and the orchestra plays brilliantly. But then, every orchestra played brilliantly for Kleiber - such was his enormous gift. The combined effect is, as I say, worthy of a complete change of heart. With this recording, you will rediscover Wagner, new and shining. Rene Kollo sings Tristan with beautiful lyricism without sacrificing his bitter sadness. Fassbaender suffices, though perhaps Ludwig surpasses, as she usually does. The score, the score! Check the score itself as you listen to this discerning recording - you will find the Wagner of your intense longing! Highest recommendation, especially if like me you've resisted this music before in your listening life."
An Outstanding modern Tristan
The Cultural Observer | 08/18/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although Carlos Kleiber never produced recordings in the same bulk that Karajan and Solti did, his output was always amazing. This recording of Tristan proves the quality of his music-making as one of the prime exponents of Wagner conducting, and without a doubt, Carlos Kleiber brings out all the passion, eroticism, lyricism, tragedy, and beauty in Wagner's score. Like the old Wagnerian stalwarts such as Knappertsbusch and Clemens Krauss, he has an ability to make a seamless and endless string of music that seems almost incandescent...yet brimming with passion. Hearing this Tristan, I sometimes feel that the drama would sometimes threaten to leap out of the speakers and engulf me in the tragedy of Tristan. That said, I would think that this would be the work's best conducted version, and with the contribution of the Dresden Staatskapelle (Wagner's favourite orchestra), there is nothing that could surely remove this from the Wagnerian oeuvre of conducting.
Regarding the cast, I would say that the most outstanding singers in this record are Kurt Moll and Margaret Price. Never having had sung Isolde on stage, Margaret Price gives this Isolde a lyricism, youthful quality, and beauty that you can never hear from other recordings. While I certainly find Dernesch, Modl, and Nilsson more compelling, she is one of the best Isolde's I have ever heard in the part. One could wish that she had sung it on stage. Kurt Moll is revelatory as King Mark. His monologue is superbly sung and acted. You can never go wrong with this artist, as everything he touches is definitive (he would probably be the Christa Ludwig of basses). Slightly below this standard of singers is the tenor Rene Kollo, who gives an amazingly youthful and heartfelt portrayal of Tristan. While I would take Vickers over him any day of the week, his Tristan offers siomething that others do not: youthful tone, ardent lyricism, and dramatic impact that singers like Suthaus never had. Fassbaender is an excellent Brangaene, although I would never take her over someone like Christa Ludwig.
The one advantage of this set over its previous issue is the fact that DG fit each act into a disc. So...none of those interruptions which are so deplorable in Wagner are heard in this CD. I still like the older on though, with its beautiful libretto and very well done artwork.
All in all, this set is an excellent when you sum up the components that make it so seductive and alluring. But you must never forget the EMI Karajan set, the 1966 DG Böhm set, the legendary 1952 Furtwängler, or even that which Karajan conducted in Bayreuth in 1952. Did I mention that Pappano's 2005 recording is excellent too?"