Furtwängler's legendary Tristan and Isolde
Possibly its finest recording - new 32-bit XR remaster
"It is moving beyond words to hear the great singer, with her art at the height of its maturity, as time bids her say farewell to Tristan, shirking nothing in her exacting part, pouring out her voice as generously as ever, and adding to the flood of golden tone an emotion not present in previous years..."
Alec Robertson on Kisten Flagstad's Isolde, The Gramophone, 1953
Downloads include full score and libretto
Tristan Ludwig Suthaus
Isolde Kirsten Flagstad
Brangäne Blanche Thebom
König Marke Josef Greindl
Kurwenal Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Melot Edgar Evans
Seemann Rudolf Schock
Hirt Rudolf Schock
Steuermann Rhoderick Davies
Review of original LP issue (excerpts)
"No other chord in music, surely, makes so startling an emotional impact on the listener as the one first heard in the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde. One may have heard it a hundred times in the opera house: but when the lights dim and go out and the house grows still as the conductor raises his baton, when there rises out of the orchestral pit the almost unbearably long-drawn motive of longing suddenly stabbed by the wood-wind chord of the motive of desire, we drink, as if for the first time, the magic potion that will cause to be enacted within us, as well as on the stage and in the orchestra, the tragedy of the ill-fated lovers.
It was in the course of Sir Thomas Beecham's second season of opera at Covent Garden, in 1910, that I heard Tristan for the first time. Up to then I had heard the Prelude and Liebestod in the concert version, studied the work at the piano as best I could (no radio, no records of the music in that dark age !) and read and re-read a book and an essay which now are, I suppose, forgotten. These were the imaginative essay on the opera in Filson Young's Mastersingers and a novel by Gertrude Atherton called The Tower of Ivory, old-fashioned in style, no doubt, and not always musically accurate, but still absorbingly interesting....
This fine recording has the great merit of suggesting a performance in the opera house without the corresponding drawback of extraneous noises, and the balance between voices and orchestra seems to me as good as anything of the kind we have yet had, and in the last act, even better than that. It is only in the Prelude to Act 1, for some reason or another, that the music sounds rather distant and light in bass. Furtwängler makes a finely controlled crescendo to the climax but, as in previous recordings, the timpani, in the recapitulatory passage, hardly tell at all. When the curtain goes up (so to speak) and the young sailor has sung his song, with the right perspective (though he sounds as far away after Brangäna has pulled the curtains of Isolde's cabin aside), the orchestra comes in with a reassuring vitality, depth of tone and spaciousness.
The splendid string playing is exceptionally well recorded, as is Wagner's lovely writing for the wood-wind, and the six off-stage horns give no cause for pain in the second act. But to do justice to such playing as this one would have to mention each member of the orchestra, from whom Furtwängler has drawn so distinguished and inspired a performance.
His firm control and masterly conception of the score and his unfailing response to the subtleties of Wagner's writing are shown in page after page, and I can quote only the first scene of the last act, in which Kurwenal is seen watching over Tristan. Furtwängler brings out most movingly the joyful emotions of Kurwenal when he realises that his hero lives and the swift changes to Tristan's faint replies to his trusty servant's anxious questions....
And Flagstad. It is moving beyond words to hear the great singer, with her art at the height of its maturity, as time bids her say farewell to Tristan, shirking nothing in her exacting part, pouring out her voice as generously as ever, and adding to the flood of golden tone an emotion not present in previous years. One of the loveliest things is her quiet singing, with the high notes beautifully covered, as (in the first act) Isolde offers the cup to Tristan and clearly reveals her inmost feelings, one of the most exciting the extinguishing of the torch in the succeeding act (the orchestra tremendous here) and the most poignant Isolde's bitter cry from the heart as Tristan dies..."
Alec Robertson - The Gramophone, March 1953 (exerpts from first review of HMV LP issue)
Read in full here
Notes on the recordings
This recording surely stands as one of the first truly great opera recordings of the era of tape recording - at last Furtwängler was free in the studio from the stifling requirements of 4-minute 78rpm sides, and what a fabulous result he and the EMI engineers made with this opportunity. My role here has been chiefly to clean up some of the murk and noise present in the original, and to extend both the top end and very deep bass. I was also able to address some pitch anololies previously ignored or undetected, most notably the first tape reel of Act 2, which has been heard quite a bit sharp (until now) for nearly 60 years...
NB. Downloads in FLAC format of each act of this recording are continuous throughout, with no gaps, as recorded. However in order to accommodate the timing shortcomings of the compact disc medium, very short fades have been applied to CD and MP3 album starts and finishes as appropriate. I have however retained the musical timing of the original performances - thus the precise start point of CD2 continues from the precise end point of CD1, and so on.
CD covers to print:
CD-writing cuesheet (save as .cue):
Quad album: cue sheets included
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