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Wagner Tristan & Isolde Acts II&III Furtwangler HDTT13666

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Tristan und Isolde - Acts II & III
Tristan: Ludwig Suthaus (tenor); Isolde: Erna Schlüter (soprano); Brangäne: Margarete Klose (mezzo-sop.); King Marke: Gottlob Frick (bass); Kuwenal: Jaro Prohaska (bass-baritone); Melot: Kurt Rehm (baritone); A shepherd: Gerhard Witting (tenor); A helmsman: Hasso Eschert (tenor)
Staatskapelle Berlin/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. live, 3 October 1947, Admiralspalast, Berlin. Mono
Reviewed as download

There being no complete, live recording of Furtwängler conducting Tristan und Isolde, we must content ourselves with these two acts. Of course, we have his famous EMI studio recording with the same tenor, and it took hearing Pristine Audio’s rendering of that recording into Ambient Stereo for me to fully appreciate its virtues, but Furtwängler aficionados will always stoutly maintain that he can only be heard at his best conducting live performances and there does seem to be a special drive and electricity to proceedings here. Furthermore, the occasional cough and sneeze notwithstanding, the sound here is so good, with minimal distortion, having been subjected to the HDTT treatment, that we get a really good feeling for Furtwängler’s special magnetism, so recognisable at key moments such as when the lovers are discovered in flagrante. He imparts an enormous weight of sadness to the Prelude to Act 3, played daringly slowly and with infinite sorrow – but the coughing is fearsome and continues throughout the first fifteen minutes of the act.

The first voice we hear is that of Erna Schlüter – hardly well-remembered today, even among opera buffs and although her first sung words are poorly caught her second utterance soon confirms that she is a Wagnerian voice of quality. She is somewhat shrill and matronly of tone without Flagstad’s steady, magisterial authority and there’s not much velvet in her voice but she has volume and intensity – and a secure top C. Her Liebestod is especially powerful; she seems to have sung herself in and concludes with a poised, floated, top G flat. Margarete Klose’s Brangäne is no less impressive – she is particularly good in her warning from the castle turret - and the Berlin State Opera horns perform creditably there, with only one minor slip. Best of all, however, is Ludwig Suthaus’s Tristan. His tenor became a little grainy and cloudy but he is more youthful here and sings with tireless stamina and shining tone, sounding truly heroic, and sounds tenderer and more expressive in the love duet than he does five years later in the studio. He even manages to make much of his extended rant in Act 3 fall sweetly on the ear; only Melchior raves so engagingly and his top notes hold no fear for him. He acts very well with his voice, such that his outpouring of thanks to Kurwenal for his devotion as a friend sounds profoundly sincere. His singing of what I consider to be the most beautiful passage in the whole work, “Wie sie selig”, Tristan’s vision of Isolde waving to him from the ship’s deck as she nears the shore, is magical, enormously enhanced by Furtwängler’s rocking accompaniment – as radiant as any I know. “Ach, Isolde, Isolde! Wie schöne bist du” is heart-breaking.

There is a huge cut of the Night and Day stuff in the love duet before “O sink hernieder” and I am aware that for some the loss is not grievous; if cuts are to be made, that is the most sensible place to do it and the best of the music is retained. No cuts, however, are made in Tristan’s music in Act 3 – presumably because Suthaus is more than up to delivering it complete.

The rest of the cast is first-rate. Gottlob Frick is at first oddly tremulous as the betrayed and shattered Mark but soon recovers steadiness and in any case, that tremolo can be ascribed to emotion and is mightily effective; he makes his lament deeply moving. Kurt Rehm’s brief appearance as Melot is gripping. Jaro Prohaska makes a sturdy, expressive Kurwenal.

Any devotee of this greatest of operas will want to hear this.

Ralph Moore

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