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Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Richard [Classical] Wagner, Donald Runnicles, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (6) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (7) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #4


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CD Reviews

A powerful duo - Isolde is magnificent
KC | London, England | 11/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I will start by saying I own umpteem sets of this sublime opera. Verdi is reported as saying he found it hard to believe a human being was capable of writing such transcendent music. All I can say is ditto.

I was present at these three concerts and was amazed how good the performance was. Indeed, it comes through more on disc than when I was there. Perhaps the concert nature of the performances didn't allow me to appreciate the beauty and power of the performances at the time.

It is wonderful to hear a recording of this opera where the Tristan and Isolde are almost ideally matched in vocal power and skill. Apart from a bad 'wobble' on the part of Tristan in Act 2 as he fails to sustain a note pitch perfect Tristan is sung beautifully and with good heft. Its Brewer's Isolde though who sells this performance (or rather 3 performances of each act tagged together). If only Brewer had sung opposite Domingo in the EMI set instead of Stemme, with her aweful wide vibrato. Thanfully her Isolde is left to posterity in this fine recording.
I have to say my favourite performance of this opera has been deleted from the catalogue. The Reginal Goodall recording on the Decca label is wonderful,with the best Liebstod I have ever heard. Why oh why it was deleted I will never know? It certainly beats the vast majority of the competiton out there, (eg: Barenboim's lack lustre set et al). However, this recording comes a close second. Runnicles conducting even beats Goodall, he seems to get it right through-out. Indeed Runnicles conducting puts one in mind of Furtwangler legenadary 52 set. Buy it without reservation. It beats most other modern recordings by a mile. Wonderful stuff.

And Decca, if your reading this, rerelease Goodall's magnificent set (for the liebstod alone)."
A Future Reference for Great Wagnerian Conducting and Singin
The Cultural Observer | 06/20/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It is rare for great Wagner soloists to appear in a person's lifetime, especially when one requires singers with the correct voices, the stamina, and the dramatic creativity for the master's Tristan und Isolde. How fortunate we are then that in the past decade, we saw the emergence of three great Isoldes--Deborah Voigt, Christine Brewer, and Nina Stemme. Isolde is perhaps the most difficult role in the dramatic soprano repertoire due to the vocal and physical demands made on the soprano. Although I would say that Verdi's heroines are much more demanding technically, the many exposed moments in Tristan, plus the orchestral size of Wagner's compositions make it difficult for the singer to easily sail through the music. Among the three Isolde's, my personal favorite is Nina Stemme due to her bright, yet slightly dark, young sound and her commitment to the text. I have never heard a more alluring or a more youthful Isolde with such searing high notes, beautiful tone, and security of technique. I think her portrayal of Isolde exudes a nobility, a sarcasm, and an erotic, femme-fatale like independence that differs from Birgit Nilsson's more godlike ideas about the role. That said, Birgit Nilsson was and is still a phenomenal Isolde, and I wouldn't live without that legend's superhuman assumption of the Irish princess. Another modern Isolde who I find absolutely fascinating is Deborah Voigt. Although her assumption of the role with Thielemann in Vienna was initially greeted with mixed reviews, I think this unique artist was able to give Isolde a more feminine, creamy, and Straussian allure tailored by Voigt's many years of singing roles that emphasize a feminine roundness (the voice, I mean) rather than bolt after bolt of Wagnerian steel. I am looking forward to her performance of the role in New York. Lastly, there is the Isolde of the other American soprano, Christine Brewer. Although I had heard this singer in other roles such as Leonore in Fidelio, Chrysothemis in Elektra, and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, it never crossed my mind that she would be a fascinating Isolde. No, this is not the kind of Isolde who sings the role of a femme fatale wronged like Stemme or Dernesch. Brewer's voice is large, yet it is homogeneous throughout the registers. Perhaps this is what Christa Ludwig would sound like if she sang Isolde, only more opulent in tone of course. Brewer is a magnificent Isolde, and although I still am not convinced that she could be a 17 year-old princess, she sings the role without strain and brings much of the dramatic nuances in plain sight. In a four hour opera where action is treated with economy and interaction takes the form of verbal and musical communication, Brewer amazingly gives Isolde a face that reflects not only the very direct emotions expressed by Wagner's text, but also the underlying messages communicated by the complex score. In a way, Brewer becomes a part of the orchestra as a musical instrument expressing both the external and internal musicalities of Wagner's score. Her Act I is truly a powerhouse, and her Act II is a dulcet interaction of text and music with her partner, while the Act III Liebestod is perhaps one of the greatest sung exponents of the piece I've ever heard performed on record. I saw Brewer's Isolde in a San Francisco performance early last year, but I think that the production limited her in a role that is essentially hers. I'll still take Stemme as my favorite modern Isolde, but Brewer comes as a close one-and-a-half

The other big reason to get this recording is for Donald Runnicles' masterful conducting of Wagner's score. His conducting at once recalls the kind of fluent, leitmotiv-imbued sound produced by legends like Sir Reginald Goodall and Hans Knappertsbusch, but it is also nuanced with the kind of orchestral painting that makes Barenboim and Furtwängler the masters of a very elite pantheon of musicians. His reading of act I bursts with sarcasm, fire, and romance, while Act II is brimming with erotic longing and a dirge-like resonance that makes it all the more maddening. His Act III plays the BBC orchestra into a frenzy of dissonances that emphasizes Tristan's madness as well as any of the past's great conductors. I would say that he gives one of the most potent readings of the score, and imbues it with the gravitas of Furtwängler's orchestral reading, the smoothness of Karajan's sound, and the urgency and clarity of Carlos Kleiber's interpretation.

The Tristan in this set is the UK-born tenor, John Treleaven. I must say that his voice is a magnificent find! It is beautiful and he has the sensitivity to highlight the text so that his Tristan sounds handsome, heroic, and tragic. It is a much more attractive and effortless-sounding voice than let's say Kollo, Windgassen, and Vickers. However, beside a giant like Brewer, it is impossible for the listener to find him to be slightly underwhelming. Still, he has one of the most sterling heldentenor voices around today and he would hold up to just about any Isolde he sings with (e.g. Luana de Vol, Nina Stemme, Deborah Voigt, et. al). He just doesn't have the necessary heft to spar with Brewer's sound. It also has a mix of that dark, romantic demented sound that one could describe as a combination of Domingo and Windgassen. However, it is not a Vickers Tristan, if that makes more sense. He partners Brewer very well in Act 2, and his Act 3 delirium is well executed without strain.

The rest of the supporting cast is fantastic. I would say that Dagmar Peckova and Boaz Daniel are some of the best Wagner supporting singers today. Peckova's Brangäne has that nocturnal quality that makes here Act 2 watch such a delight to listen to, and she attentively partners Brewer in their Act 1 and Act 2 exchanges. Boaz Daniel is a youthful and virile Kurwenal that recalls the likes of Eberhard Wächter. Another wonderful find! Peter Rose, on the other hand, never reaches the grandiose heights attained by Pape or Moll. However, he does give a more youthful Marke, but without the gravitas given by Pape. That is a small quibble though in what is essentially one of the fresher interpretations of a smaller part. It is also fascinating to find Jonathan Lemalu in the small part of the Steuermann!

Is this the perfect Tristan? Perhaps not, but it is definitely one that deserves the listener's attention as it showcases some of today's most seasoned Wagnerian singers.

Mr. Allan K. Steel | Sydney, AUS | 12/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"One of the best modern digital recordings.

First of all: sound quality is superb, even though live concert recording. All string parts really clear (critical for this piece) and you can hear them over the full brass & woodwind often (drowned in other recordings), such as in the wonderful first stage of the Duet in Act II. Brass and woodwind are great too (cutting horns). Tuba & trombones are more prominent than on other recordings, which is quite interesting.

Brewer is great. Thicker darker tone but really clear, natural tone and sings all the notes so clearly and purely. Treleaven is not in same class: is even a bit off at times and strained, but on the whole is quite bearable. The singers for the other parts are all excellent, particularly Boaz as Kurwenal.

I would say the best modern digital Tristans are: Barenboim, Thielemann and this.

Barenboim has the superb Jerusalem and the OK Meier. The sound is super, particularly in the horns (see my review of that).

Thielemann is wonderful in sound and performance (a bit quicker then the others) with incredibly clear separation of the strings (I REALLY love the super wonderful separation of the 1st and 2nd violins). Moser is great and Voight is quite OK (I prefer Moser to Treleaven by far: more genuine heldentenor).

So I love all these digital sets now and this Runnicles is certainly up there for sound and performance quality."