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 [35:13]
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)
No texts
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 choose them.

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.

Göran Forsling

Meier and Jerusalem are up there among the Wagner classics.