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Customer reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
Wagner: Tristan Und Isolde
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on 30 November 2013
I remember innocently buying the Melodram LPs of a Covent Garden Tristan with Melchior and Flagstad claiming to have been conducted by Beecham, and coming to the conclusion on first hearing that the first act couldn't have been - and with equal certainty that that the second act was. Later on it turned out that the first act - which was well recorded for the circumstances and the period, and very authoritative - was Reiner's. This first act, not so well recorded, is unmistakably Beecham.

Do not expect acoustic miracles - there is a manageable level of surface noise, but Flagstad and Melchior brush it aside. Beecham's orchestra doesn't, - at pianissimo it is well below noise level and pretty distant, but his dynamic range is very wide and must have banjaxed the engineers. You have to intuit a good deal of the detail, but the confrontation between Isolde and Tristan which is the climax of the act does allow something of the orchestra to come into focus. As the ship comes into port, Kurwenal drowns chorus and full orchestra, though. Much of the second act does give an idea of the sheer magic of Beecham's interpretation of the night. Elsewhere his resource, and theatrical sense are outstanding. You are on the edge of your seat. Now if only the source material might be persuaded to yield a little more......

The stars are a tribute to what survives of the performance (which, as usual, was cut) and the occasion, not an endorsement of the acoustic quality. But you do get used to it.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 20 February 2013
Goodness knows what cold virus was haunting the cobbled back alleys of Vienna that December in 1976 - or was it just a collective case of mass pig ignorance? - but I have never heard such a gratuitously inattentive and inconsiderate audience hack its way through an entire performance almost without respite - it's absolutely maddening. I expect to be tolerant of some audience noise but this is ridiculous.

My disappointment is compounded by the fact that contrary to my hopes and expectations, Nilsson and Vickers do not here constitute the dream-team partnership we might have envisaged. Despite the amplitude of her voice and her continued ability to hit the top notes, Nilsson is clearly labouring as she lows and heaves her way unsteadily through the part, quite without the ease and gleam we hear in earlier recordings from the 60's and early 70's; at times it is almost painful. The Brangäne is harsh and wobbly and rather ordinary; the Kurwenal similarly competent but unmemorable. It is a surprise to hear the inimitable tones of veteran tenor Anton Dermota as the Sailor here at 66 years old and still singing well and the equally unmistakable tenor of Gerhard Stolze is a characterful asset as the Shepherd. The noble sonority of Hans Sotin's rich bass lends pathos, dignity and gravitas to King Mark's lament.

Vickers, too is below par; perhaps it is fair to say that both principal singers are here past their legendary best, although Vickers is here only 50 while Nilsson is already 58. His tone is often hoarse, grey and lacking centre; he frequently lapses into his besetting fault of crooning.

Horst Stein was an excellent conductor and often paces matters aptly without generating much excitement; there is a certain slackness where we need more dramatic tension but the prelude is replete with yearning (insofar as you can ignore the relentless hacking) famous, the climax to Act 1 exciting, and the extended love duet in Act 2 goes well, with Vickers using a tender mezza voce.

The mono sound is quite distant; voices are often too recessed but not too damagingly so. It's perfectly acceptable for a live recording of that provenance but nothing special.

So unfortunately this is not the collector's item all "Tristan" obsessives will have been searching for.
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on 15 April 2013
Given its place in history (the eve of Pearl Harbor) this is a first rate performance that shows the brilliance of wartime Wagner interpretation. The Met had some exceptional singers during this period and the recording quality is more than sufficient.
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on 1 February 2002
I thought that the Reiner Tristan und Isolde performance issued by Naxos Historical would be the best that one was likely to hear. This recording has proven me wrong.
Both Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad are even better here. More passionate, more fiery. Flagstad sings a little more beautifully on the Reiner set, but Beecham drives her and Melchior so that they perform even better. This recording is an edited versjon of two performance, with Beecham conducting in both performances, with some difference in the supporting cast. Paul Schöffler plays Kurnewal and Margarete Klose is Brangäne in one performance and Herbert Janssen is Kurnewal and Karin Branzell is Brangäne in the other. All four of them play their parts very well. I do so prefer Klose to Kalter in the passages in act 1. I always thougth that Kalter on the Reiner set was not what the Brangäne character could be, despite of what the notes enclosed said. Klose really was so good in the role. Branzell is also very good in her small appearance at the end of act 3. Both Janssen and Schöffler were extremely good. They have different ways of singing, but both came out perfectly. Sven Nilsson sings King Marke with much heartfelt sadness and he delivers the long monologue magnificently. He was the Wagner regular bass at Covent Garden then and you can hear why.
Then there is sir Thomas Beecham. In many ways he is superior to Fritz Reiner, at least to my hears. Beecham picks up small nuances in the score and lets the orchestra play them beautifully. It says in the notes that Beecham insisted that Melchior play a little longer version of act 3 than he usually does, which Melchior protested against. For me this makes Beecham a man of integrity about his art and his way of performing the opera. This disagreement is evident in the performance too with Melchior singing even more passionately that ever before.
The sound is not as good as on the Reiner set, but it is still ok. It is a little in the distant, but it doesn't have the bad volume mixing the Reiner set has again. There are some cracks here and there, but still very listenable. If the sound was worse I couldn't have gived it 5 stars, but the performance alone deserves it. At this low price it is a major bargain to have this magnificent performance.
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on 26 December 2014
This is a fabulous performance and will take an important place in that small collection of great recordings which I will use for my listening enjoyment of this greatest of operas. The Act 1 Prelude is astonishingly slow providing space to hear, experience and feel almost every note played so I have renewed understanding of the sounds the orchestra makes and I appreciate, again, the place these sounds have in the whole. But the pace varies and it is not all taken as slowly. Bernstein certainly provides the right balance of pace and sound to let these great performers establish utterly believable characterisations and narrative drama. I've noticed some inconsistency in dramatic intensity between the different performances that make up this overall recording and Goodall/WNO/Esther Gray remains my definitive go-to recording.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 31 January 2016
Knappertsbusch could be a stodgy, inert conductor but there is nothing of that in his conducting here. The swirling, fluid phrases of the overture announce that this will be a performance of rare energy - he introduces a flavour of Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini" in his free handling of the obsessive, repetitive figure building to the climax which almost threatens to become derailed but instantly suggests the destructive passions that lead inexorably to disaster. This is not speedy but always nervy, biting and intense, no stately concert performance.

The big, fresh voices of the protagonists have more vigour and youth than the more marmoreal Flagstad or the mighty Melchior; Helena Braun's bold soprano in particular burns with an intense, slender flame contrasting nicely with Klose's big, warm mezzo as Brangäne. Paul Schöffler is very fine and warm as Kurwenal. Günther Treptow's tenor is a little throaty and "Germanic" but this must be one of his finest performances, his sterling work in Moralt's "Ring" from the year before notwithstanding; he is firm and strong, riding the orchestra easily without barking. To cap a very fine cast, we have the great Ferdinand Frantz as a sonorous, desperate, very touching King Mark. The sound is clean mono and one soon forgets its limitations so absorbing are Knappertsbusch's moulding of the orchestral lines and the intensity of his accents.

In short, I agree with late "Gramophone" opera critic Alan Blyth that this is something of a sleeper amongst the extant recordings of "Tristan" and it takes its place amongst my favourites.
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on 10 April 2015
Good saller
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