Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Night of Love
Tristan und Isolde
1. Weh, ach wehe! Dies zu dulden [12:08]
2. O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe [5:12]
3. Lausch, Geliebter! ... So stürben wir, um ungetrennt [14:24]
4. Mild und leise [7:01]
5. Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter Brust ... Wehe! Wehe! Was
tat ich? Wo war ich? ... Amfortas! Die Wunde! ... Grausamer! Fühlst
du im Herzen nur and’rer Schmerzrn ... Vergeh, unseliges Weib
6. Nur eine Waffe taugt [4:41]
Waltraud Meier (soprano) (Isolde, Kundry), Siegfried Jerusalem (tenor)
(Tristan, Parsifal), Marjana Lipovsek (mezzo) (Brangäne) (tr.
1), Günter von Kannen (bass) (Klingsor) (tr. 5);
Berliner Philharmoniker/Daniel Barenboim
rec. Philharmonie, Berlin, October-November 1994 (Tristan); Jesus-Christus-Kirche,
Berlin, December 1989, January, March 1990 (Parsifal)
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 67605-9 [78:41]
Record collectors had to rely on “bleeding chunks” of Wagner
before the advent of the LP. Even after that separate ‘arias’
and instrumental pieces were often issued more or less truncated,
or at least with fade-outs. Well, Wagner has to blame himself
for composing this seamless music; and sound recording was of
course unknown during his lifetime. But this visionary man may
also have had visions of new technology and then his hope would
surely have been for the CD and DVD with their capacity to preserve
long unbroken musical spans.
It’s quite some time since I had a Wagner highlights disc. Maybe
it was the reissue of Solti’s Tristan some five years
ago. Here’s Tristan again, coupled with Parsifal,
and it’s a good idea to juxtapose these two works under the
joint heading ‘Night of Love’. No composer has written more
sensual and impassioned love music – at least no one has ever
indulged in the love-making for quite so long. I know full well
that opinions concerning Wagner are divided: either you love
him or you hate him to put it bluntly. My wife pointed out that
you can also be indifferent to him. Personally I’m a Wagnerian
dipso. There are periods when I immerse myself wholeheartedly
in his magical world – a couple of years ago I had two complete
Ring cycles for review within a week and a couple of Tristan
in between for good measure. But after such a spell I can happily
resist him for months. This time several months had passed without
a note of Wagner, and this disc came as a godsend: two of the
foremost Wagner singers during the last quarter-century, the
magnificent Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim whose Wagner
credentials are well known.
I do, categorically, prefer complete recordings. That way I
can pick and choose the excerpts I want when I am not in the
mood for the whole thing. Here the un-credited compiler has
done the job for me. I couldn’t have done it better myself;
is there a more positive judgement? There are some long scenes,
in particular 35 unbroken minutes from act II of Parsifal.
Isolde’s Liebestod and Parsifal’s Nur eine Waffe taugt
are stand-alone numbers anyway.
Barenboim’s long lines in the building of the climaxes and his
minute control of the ebb and flow of the music are even better
exposed in the complete recordings. These qualities contribute
immeasurably to the success of this collection. The silken sheen
of the BPO strings embeds the voices without ever swamping them,
thanks to a splendid job by the recording crew. And then there
are the singers.
Waltraud Meier, in her mid- and late thirties when the recordings
were made, is glorious in every way. The beauty of her voice
is a wonder in itself and paired with power and dramatic intensity
her readings of the two roles must rank among the best in modern
times. Meier’s Liebestod is a thing of rare beauty and
she expresses Isolde’s vulnerability so touchingly. Flagstad,
Varnay, Nilsson and Behrens were outstanding Wagner sopranos
during the post-war years. Meier is in the same league and among
her own generation she had no peer. In the generation that followed
we have at least two worthy heirs: Nina Stemme and Irene Theorin.
They are both Swedish but it isn’t out of chauvinism that I
Meier is partnered by the greatest Wagner tenor since Windgassen.
Siegfried Jerusalem, born in 1940, was a professional bassoon
player for many years but also studied the voice. In 1975 a
scheduled tenor backed out at short notice from a television
production of Der Zigeunerbaron and Jerusalem stood in.
The success was so great that his singing career received a
flying start and the next year he was invited to Bayreuth. A
late start is not always a bad thing and Jerusalem is ample
proof of that. He was in his fifties when these two sets were
made and his voice is in wonderful shape. In the Parsifal
aria there are some signs of strain but otherwise his blonde
tone is a pleasure to hear. The love duet from Tristan und
Isolde is in every way outstanding. Flagstad and Suthaus
(not quite my cup of tea), Nilsson and Windgassen (who was even
better ten years earlier), Stemme and Domingo (yes, Domingo
was well over sixty but still in fine fettle) are all classics;
Meier and Jerusalem should be up there too. To pick some equivalents
from the present generation (apart from Stemme) I can only find
Theorin and Robert Dean Smith, who sang in Tristan at
Bayreuth three years ago.
Marjana Lipovsek is a good Brangäne in Weh ach wehe!
and Günter von Kannen excellent as Klingsor but it is for Meier
and Jerusalem one buys this disc and those who are already well
stocked with recordings of these two works should at least have
these excerpts as complements to the complete sets.