FURTWÄNGLER Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (1952) - PACO067

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FURTWÄNGLER Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (1952) - PACO067

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WAGNER Tristan und Isolde

Recorded in 1952
Total duration: 4hr 16:25

Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Philharmonia Orchestra
conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler

This set contains the following albums:

Furtwängler's legendary Tristan and Isolde

Possibly its finest recording - new 32-bit XR remaster

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...

Andrew Rose

  • WAGNER Tristan und Isolde

    Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
    Philharmonia Orchestra

    conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler

    Recording producer: Walter Legge
    Recording Engineer: Douglas Larter
    Recorded 10-21 & 23 June 1952, Kingsway Hall, London

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

Fanfare Review

The orchestral colors are richer, the voices bloom more, and the whole is more satisfying than it has ever been

In Fanfare 28:1 I reviewed two reissues of this 1952 HMV recording, one on EMI, the other on Naxos. I noted that like the Callas Tosca, since it was first issued this has been defined as a classic of the recording industry by just about every commentator who has written about it. It is, quite simply, one of the greatest Wagner performances ever preserved on disc. I won’t take valuable Fanfare space by repeating what I said there, other than to note again the greatness of Furtwängler’s conducting here. Every single phrase is connected to what precedes it and what follows it. Although the phrasing is supple, and there are many subtle variations of tempo, everything is perfectly prepared. The music breathes, breathes in a way that is so natural that we are ultimately unaware of the act of performance, and aware only of Wagner’s great achievement. Every aspect of the conductor’s craft and art is present and is applied to this whole—color, balance, tempo, texture, chord-voicing, shaping, articulation—all of this and more are sewn together to make this miracle of a performance. Add Kirstin Flagstad’s exalted Isolde, Ludwig Suthaus’s richly sung (and often underrated) Tristan, and fine performances by Blanche Thebom, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Josef Greindl, and you have a recording that merits the almost universal praise it has garnered.

The real question for collectors is whether this Pristine transfer is significantly superior to the earlier ones. I had praise for both EMI’s and Naxos’s versions, giving a very slight edge to the Naxos transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn. I was not expecting a meaningful difference in Andrew Rose’s effort for Pristine, but in fact it is enough of an improvement to warrant its purchase by any serious collector. In addition to listening to it all the way through, I did a number of spot A-B comparisons to the EMI and Naxos. It seems to me that Rose has managed to come up with a sound picture that is fuller at both the upper and lower extremes of frequency, without ever turning the sound harsh. It is the bass that is particularly impressive here—never boomy, but satisfyingly solid with an impact missing until now. The orchestral colors are richer, the voices bloom more, and the whole is more satisfying than it has ever been. I heard the ambient stereo version, but assume the monaural version that Pristine also issues is of equal quality. Pristine’s ambient stereo bears no relation to the pseudo-stereo that the record companies tried to peddle in the 1970s, but instead manages to create just a bit more of a sense of space around the sound. Of course Pristine’s version is also available as a FLAC download from its website.

There can be little doubt that this Furtwängler-led Tristan recording belongs in the Classical Hall of Fame, and Pristine Audio’s stunning restoration gives me good reason to put it there.

Henry Fogel
This article originally appeared in Issue 35:5 (May/June 2012) of Fanfare Magazine.