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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tristan und Isolde (1865) - Act 2, scenes 1 and 2 (with concert ending of 1862) [52’00]. Götterdämmerung (1876) Act 3, Scene 3 [20’44].
Margaret Jane Wray (soprano, Isolde and Brünnhilde); Nancy Maultsby (mezzo, Brangäne); John Horton (tenor, Tristan)
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/John McGlinn.
Rec. Studio No. 5, Moscow Film Studios, on May 23rd-30th, 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.555789 [76’39]

An interesting idea, to pit the erotically charged second act of Tristan against Brünnhilde’s highly-strung valediction forming the close of the Ring cycle. Previously McGlinn and John Horton Murray had recorded scenes from Lohengrin and Siegfried for this company, a disc that I found ‘a mixed bag’. Something similar here, but generally that bit more successful. Naxos include all texts and English only translation, as well as synopsis.

This increased success seems to stem from a greater identification on the part of orchestra and conductor although interestingly the series of sessions for the two discs overlapped. Maybe the value of this disc comes from the inclusion of the 1862 concert ending for the love duet, ‘created against the possibility of concert use’ as McGlinn neatly puts it in his notes. It is published in the ongoing Schott Complete Wagner Edition.

Tristan Act 2 begins disappointingly - this is hardly the explosion of sexual energy that the score demands (at the opening of track 4, as Isolde dismisses Brangäne’s doubts, the orchestra is similarly restrained in its response). Yet as the distant horns sound, here they do actually sound like hunting horns. Isolde (Margaret Jane Wray) is young-sounding and therefore refreshing. More, she sounds impulsive, propelled on in her actions by love, not logic.

Tristan’s entry is powerful enough from the singer (John Horton). Again it is the orchestra that lets the moment down, with scrappy strings and giving a generally restrained impression. Strange to hear the singer involved with their roles and the orchestra going through the motions for much of the time, a fault that reaches its climax at the crucial ‘O ew’ge Nacht’ (track 19), where the dramatic build-uyp is effective scuppered.

Brangäne in her off-stage reminder (track 17) is distanced but echoey - presumably this was to enhance the spookiness of the moment, but it has the reverse effect. For the rest, Nancy Multsby (closely associated with Chicago’s Lyric Opera) is powerful enough. She calls on an almost Erda-isch quality at times.

So to the Concert Ending (track 19). So strange to slip into the ‘Verklärung’ at this point (and to hear Tristan himself adding counter-melodies in music that is so closely associated with Isolde alone). The strange thing is that it works (actually when you come to think of Wagner’s genius for elision, perhaps it is not so surprising after all …).

Wagner was big on farewells, and here is Brünnhilde saying goodbye to life in spectacular fashion, taking her horse, Grane (this is Wagner, everything has a name), with her. Wray’s voice seems to take on a more piercing quality here, but there remains the over-riding impression of a run-through. More of a sense of depth of interpretation from all parties would be welcome. A prime example comes at the very end of track 21, when Brünnhilde projects something of tenderness at the words ‘die treueste Liebe’ (‘his truest love’); the ensuing ‘trog keiner wie er’ (‘none deceived as he!’) counts for little, however, the orchestra half-hearted, the singer hardly much more so.

The lyric impulse is undeniably present throughout, yet there is little (or none, if I’m being honest) of the sense of grandeur that the close of a phenomenon demands. And the Ring cycle is a phenomenon, of that there is no doubt. The most heinous crime is the massive sag in tension at the beginning of the final track (Naxos labels the final five minutes ‘Apotheosis’), immediately after Brünnhilde sings ‘Selig grüsst dich dein Weib!’ (‘Your wife greets you!’). Evidently Siegfried isn’t too thrilled to see her.

Worth it for the concert ending, then, but as a Wagner experience this disc leaves much to be desired. Comparison with the Great and Good of Wagner interpretation is not called for here.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Robert Farr


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