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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb value edition of a classic account, 12 Sep 2006
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Tristan und Isolde (Audio CD)
This is the same 1952 live Bayreuth performance that we have seen in various incarnations on different labels - but much cheaper than most; the new Orfeo label edition is good but three times the price for the same thing and the only competitor pricewise is the inferior Opera d'Oro set. This is a good, clean transfer with minimal distortion in what will never be a sonic extravaganza, but its limitations are well worth enduring in return for an incandescent performance which catches the two great principal singers in top form. There is something peculiarly immediate and vibrant about Modl's assumption of the role of Isolde which puts the magisterial but bland Flagstad in the shade and even outdoes Nilsson in the famous live Bohm performance. She has a Callas-like manner of getting to the heart of the role by a specially intelligent inflection of the text and affecting use of her lower register combined with some thrilling (if slightly "scooped") top notes. Vinay's baritonal tenor is both heroic and tender; the exchange between the lovers just after their discovery in flagrante by the king is particularly moving. Ludwig Weber is past his best and a bit wobbly, but knows how to wring the heart and Hotter, typically woofy and heavy on the vibrato, nonetheless creates a vivid character in his Kurwenal. Despite the limited sound you can hear how Karajan caresses the music without dragging it out or distorting the pacing of the work; he really is good here, free of the later affectations and mannerisms. Uhde turns in another typically incisive vignette as the vicious, obsessive Melot. Malaniuk is just average as Brangane but sings strongly and expressively where it counts in her offstage warnings during the great love duet. This recording takes its place alongside my other favourite "Tristans": the old Reiner/Beecham with Flagstad and Melchior (the latter still unbeatable), the live Knappertsbusch set with Treptow and Braun, the famous Furtwangler set, the Bohm DG live and the last and latest Pappano, in lovely sound and preserving a performance of lieder-like intensity and burnished tone by Domingo.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Live broadcast from Bayreuth with a 1952 dream cast, 24 Aug 2010
By 
L. E. Cantrell (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Tristan und Isolde (Audio CD)
SOURCE:
Live performance from the 1952 Bayreuth Festival broadcast by Bavarian Radio.

SOUND:
This recording has led to some crowing about its being a new re-masterings of the original Bavarian Radio tapes.

I think the technical qualities of the recordings of "Parsifal" and "Meistersinger" made at the previous year's festival are better than they are on this 1952 set, but the 1951 "Meistersinger" is a compilation assembled from parts of performances and rehearsals and I strongly suspect that is equally true of the "Parsifal." They were made by EMI technicians under the personal direction of the great Walter Legge. In 1952, the Bavarian Radio engineers, faced with capturing a single live performance on the wing, couldn't match Legge and EMI. They, perforce recorded some annoying audience noise, accepted some occasional distortion (mostly involving Mödl) and placed their microphones in such a way that the orchestra is more distanced than it should be.

There are a few sonic oddities. The offstage voice of the young sailor, for example, sounds extraordinarily echo-y for someone who is supposed to be on the deck of a ship in mid-ocean. From time to time, voices briefly take a nosedive in volume as singers turn away from the microphones or wander into sonic dead spots.

All that said, I find the sound here to be satisfactory for what it is: a historical record of the quite remarkable performance that took place in Bayreuth six decades ago.

CAST:
Tristan - Ramon Vinay (tenor)
Isolde - Martha Mödl (soprano)
King Marke - Ludwig Weber (bass)
Kurwenal - Hans Hotter (baritone)
Melot - Herman Uhde (tenor)
Brangäne - Ira Melaniuk (mezzo-soprano)
Steersman - Gerhard Stolze (baritone)
Young Sailor - Werner Faulhabler (tenor)
Shepherd - Gerhard Unger (tenor)

CONDUCTOR:
Herbert von Karajan with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus.

COMMENTARY: The Bayreuth Festival was reborn in 1951 under the joint direction of Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner, the composer's grandsons. They were, unlike their English-born mother, deemed to be free of the taint of Nazidom, despite their former close relationship with the man they had called "Uncle Wolf." The Festival was beset by problems arising from an impoverished treasury and the need to take on new forms of production in order to confirm the break with the ... deplorable past. To balance its problems, the Festival luxuriated in the presence of two resident conductors of enormous stature, Hans Knappertsbusch and Herbert von Karajan--and positively reveled in the emergence of a generation of Wagnerian singers who can only be described as fabulous when compared to the current unimpressive crop.

This recording dates from the second year of the revived festival, before the titanic egos of the two conductors had collided with the equally bloated egos of the Wagner Brothers to create permanent rifts. The cast, led by Vinay (1911-1996), Mödl (b. 1913), Weber (1899-1979) and Hotter (1909-2003) are a Wagnerian dream team. And the other roles are filled with performers of impressive stature, too.

Of the great post-war generation of Wagnerian singers, the performers on this set were not the best singers, as such, but--in my opinion, at least--very much the best actors. If you want the best singing, go to the Flagstad or Nilssen versions. If you want a perfectly realized music drama, this is your set.

Chilean Vinay, the once and future baritone, is a totally convincing Tristan, conveying the pain and passion of the role to perfection. Mödl is a precise match for him. To my mind, she does more than sing Isolde, she becomes Isolde. Weber and Hotter were performers of vast authority.

No opera house in the world today could hope to match this cast--or even come close.

This is a historic recording in adequate (but no more) mono sound. Nevertheless, the overall performance is so good, that it is worth five solid stars. When the mood strikes me to hear "Tristan und Isolde," this is the set that I put on the player.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest Tristan?, 21 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Tristan und Isolde (Audio CD)
This may be the greatest recorded Tristan, a searing performance from Bayreuth 1952. Karajan was at his peak as a Wagner conductor and his two leads, modl and Vinay, giving tremendous performances of vocal acting. She in particular was the greatest vocal actress of her age. Just listen to her act one and the duet with Tristan in act two. Vinay is not quite in her class but delivers a very good performance indeed. In fact the only tenor who surpasses him in this role is Vickers in the later Karajan, a very different experience. There are of course sonic limitations in the 1952 mono recording but it is not bad for its age. This particular transfer sounds good. One can just be thankful this recording is available to us at all.
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