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Thread: Furtwänglar: Tristan and Isolde

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    Brings to mind a passage from J.B. Steane's The Grand Tradition: Seventy Years of Singing on Record. As opposed to "the imaginative care for words" and "the vivid and intimate singing of Wagner" post-WWII, "in the inter-war years, greatness among the Wagnerians lay principally in another direction. It lay essentially in the application of sound vocal method to music which so often had tempted singers to a non-lyrical, explosive or merely wooden style. The immense value of the records of Leider, Flagstad, Melchior, and Schorr is that they are all sung: smoothness, steadiness, sonority, control, they are all present as probably in no generation of Wagnerian singers before or since. These singers were far from giving shallow interpretations, but the distinctive merit of their work as examples to later times (as well as being an unfailing source of pleasure in themselves) lies essentially in the sheer beauty of sound."
    Steane is talking about the "Italian style" of singing, a concept that meant something back when Italy was supplying the world with singers schooled in bel canto. I love the story told by Jess Thomas about how, in the year of his Bayreuth debut as Parsifal, he was sitting at a cafe table when an elderly woman approached him, introduced herself as Frida Leider, and praised him for singing Wagner's music in the style in which it should be sung, the "Italian style."

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    Brings to mind a passage from J.B. Steane's The Grand Tradition: Seventy Years of Singing on Record. As opposed to "the imaginative care for words" and "the vivid and intimate singing of Wagner" post-WWII, "in the inter-war years, greatness among the Wagnerians lay principally in another direction. It lay essentially in the application of sound vocal method to music which so often had tempted singers to a non-lyrical, explosive or merely wooden style. The immense value of the records of Leider, Flagstad, Melchior, and Schorr is that they are all sung: smoothness, steadiness, sonority, control, they are all present as probably in no generation of Wagnerian singers before or since. These singers were far from giving shallow interpretations, but the distinctive merit of their work as examples to later times (as well as being an unfailing source of pleasure in themselves) lies essentially in the sheer beauty of sound."
    This I think was typical of Steane's priorities in that he valued smoothness and beauty of singing above everything else. Nothing wrong with that - it's a point of view. One of the reasons he found Karajan's Tristan difficult to live with was Vickers' hyper-dramatic Tristan which in many ways was the opposite of the values he espoused. Richard Osborn called it 'slippered old age' but it is a matter of priorities. To me I prefer Isolde to sound like a princess which is why I prefer Denersch (for Karajan) or Price (for Kleiber) as they actually sound as if you could fall in love with them. Nilsson has sheer voice, a thing to wonder at, but could we love her, even with the aid of a potion? I think she would send even the bravest warrior running for his life!
    Last edited by DavidA; Aug-08-2019 at 19:43.

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    Like any recording one can quibble about this aspect or that, but it features tremendous singing and spellbinding conducting from perhaps the greatest Wagnerian of the 20th century. Sure the sound is a little mushy, but it's absolutely compelling. This was the first recording of the opera I heard and it's still my favorite, though there are several others that are extraordinary as well.
    Last edited by Byron; Aug-08-2019 at 22:10.

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    Very fine quote, amfortas; certainly, we can be sure that Frida Leider, Lehmann, Flagstad or even the MEN (Melchior, Schorr … and let's not forget Alexander Kipnis, and many others) weren't worried about whether they were "sexy". They simply gave the best vocal resources, in a true, non-hysterical/(or overly-emotional) way, molding their vocal instruments and passions into an interweaving of the true intent of Wagner … WITH some of the better orchestral accompaniments of the time (yes, even in the pre-stereo age) … into something that's endured for many decades.

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    Also, thanks to DarkAngel & Lark, for noticing what Andrew Rose - Pristine Classical - has done with the "venerable" recording of Flagstad, Blanche Thebom & Furtwangler. Mr. Rose has done even MORE, with the great recordings of the Borlange (Sweden) fellow - Jussi Bjorling. … Well, I've been listening to the EMI CD set (Furtwangler) and I find, virtually-nothing to complain about … although I've never found the voice of Josef Greindl (King Mark) as anything other than "woolly", and fairly-inadequate, in anything Wagnerian.

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    Senior Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Well, Jerusalem and Meier don't sound "sexy" to me either. But since when does sexual passion require its participants to be sexy? In any case, Tristan is about more than sex.

    The suggestion that the desperate need of Tristan and Isolde to find a place of refuge in a cold world is just a hormonally-induced infatuation puts the opera in roughly the same category as La Boheme. Rodolfo will get over Mimi in about a month, or whenever the next pretty little number knocks on his freezing garret door and offers him a warm night under the sheets. Tristan, reviewing the pain of his life, simply cannot go on living in the "day" world in which coldness resides not in snowy nights and unpaid bills but in the soul of a society ruled by rigid rank and custom, beneath the oppressiveness of which men and women are not free to be themselves, or even to discover who they are.

    La Boheme is a soap opera. Tristan und Isolde is a tragedy, and it doesn't attain that stature by being a tale of sexual frustration.

    Barenboim's conducting of that duet, btw, isn't a patch on Furtwangler's.
    I think "matronly" and "marmoreal" used by others perfectly describe Flagstad's performance.

    Act I (Isolde) and Act III (Tristan) require the singers to "get their hands dirty". A performance that comes off as sounding effortless (as in Flagstand and Melichior's famed power but "leaving some in the tank for reserve") actually does the source material a disservice. Singers who take risks and go all-out like Meier and Lorenz capture the intensity of what this "unperformable" opera is all about.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    I think "matronly" and "marmoreal" used by others perfectly describe Flagstad's performance.

    Act I (Isolde) and Act III (Tristan) require the singers to "get their hands dirty". A performance that comes off as sounding effortless (as in Flagstand and Melichior's famed power but "leaving some in the tank for reserve") actually does the source material a disservice. Singers who take risks and go all-out like Meier and Lorenz capture the intensity of what this "unperformable" opera is all about.
    You make a valid point. It may come down to how much vocal impurity we can tolerate. As a singer and a lover of great singing, I get a sympathetic sore throat listening to Lorenz, Modl and any number of others going "all out." There's a lot of music in Tristan which is actually beautiful when beautifully sung but which too often fails to sound that way, and that too is part of what the opera is all about.

    I was spoiled by what Flagstad and Furtwangler make of the opening scene of Act 2: the nocturnal murmurings of the breeze, the purling brook, the distant horncalls, Isolde's rhapsodizing about "Frau Minne" - and then the whole Liebesnacht, the lovers lost to the world on the flowery bank, Brangaene's disebodied voice floating into the night over Furtwangler's incomparable orchestral enchantment. No other performance I've heard captures so fully the deep beauty and timelessness of this music. Wagner told Mathilde Wesendonck, while he was composing Tristan, that he was thinking of Bellini. It's hard to make sense of that when the singers are audibly struggling to maintain the musical line. I'd like to have heard Leider and Melchior in the '30s. We do have this to suggest what they could do:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LPF-3UqNU4
    Last edited by Woodduck; Aug-10-2019 at 18:34.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    Act I (Isolde) and Act III (Tristan) require the singers to "get their hands dirty". A performance that comes off as sounding effortless (as in Flagstand and Melichior's famed power but "leaving some in the tank for reserve") actually does the source material a disservice. Singers who take risks and go all-out like Meier and Lorenz capture the intensity of what this "unperformable" opera is all about.
    While I agree that the music needs the performer to inject passion and dramatic intent, there is no substitute for the ability to sing what Wagner wrote with complete vocal command. And while I sometimes find Flagstad too placid for my taste, I hear no lack of passion in Melchior's Tristan Act 3. I prefer Tristans who don't sound as though they're about to cough up a lung.

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    Senior Member Zhdanov's Avatar
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    is it me or does Furtwangler conducting style overshadow the music?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zhdanov View Post
    is it me or does Furtwangler conducting style overshadow the music?
    It's you. .................

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    Senior Member Bill H.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    I am surprised to hear someone say the sound is awful. I wouldn't;t say it is modern by any means but it is adequate mono. The problem lies more in the fact that by this stage Flagstad was rather elderly and matronly and sounds uncommonly like Tristan's mother. Pity the voice couldn't have been well recorded about 20 years before. Suthaus apparently looked like PG Woodhouse' Jeeves and has been remarked he sounds a bit like him too! Furtwangler of course was a master Wagnerian but for the real thing go to Karajan 1952 in worse sound but electrifying live performance..
    For anybody's info, I did do a remix of the '52 Bayreuth Karajan some years ago, which I haven't revisited since--but it did strike me sound-wise as coming from a better source than some of the commercial releases that were prevalent at the time (there was a story that Martha Mödl had her own archival copy of the radio tapes that was better quality than the airchecks that were commonly being used). Anyone can download the mp3s from the link, which has the option of the recording split into 3 CD length folders with tracks, or as 3 Act-long files. It comes across to me as a little bass-hefty like many other versions, but if it sounds better than the one you have now, then please enjoy.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=0By...S0zN01acjhTS0U

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill H. View Post
    For anybody's info, I did do a remix of the '52 Bayreuth Karajan some years ago, which I haven't revisited since--but it did strike me sound-wise as coming from a better source than some of the commercial releases that were prevalent at the time (there was a story that Martha Mödl had her own archival copy of the radio tapes that was better quality than the airchecks that were commonly being used). Anyone can download the mp3s from the link, which has the option of the recording split into 3 CD length folders with tracks, or as 3 Act-long files. It comes across to me as a little bass-hefty like many other versions, but if it sounds better than the one you have now, then please enjoy.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=0By...S0zN01acjhTS0U
    But what did you use as your source? I've heard several different issues of this over the years - Cetra LP's, CD's on Opera d'Oro and Myto - and by far the best sound is the "official" issue on Orfeo, which sounds just fine. If you remixed any of the other issues, you were working with vastly inferior source material.

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill H. View Post
    For anybody's info, I did do a remix of the '52 Bayreuth Karajan some years ago, which I haven't revisited since--but it did strike me sound-wise as coming from a better source than some of the commercial releases that were prevalent at the time (there was a story that Martha Mödl had her own archival copy of the radio tapes that was better quality than the airchecks that were commonly being used). Anyone can download the mp3s from the link, which has the option of the recording split into 3 CD length folders with tracks, or as 3 Act-long files. It comes across to me as a little bass-hefty like many other versions, but if it sounds better than the one you have now, then please enjoy.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=0By...S0zN01acjhTS0U
    Thanks again BillH.
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KRoad View Post
    (BTW: I find Karajan's 1972 recording of T. & I. wonderful - both sound and performance are wonderful.).
    It is a good one, but I seem to recall some odd shifts of perspective in places, as if different takes, with the singers standing in different positions, have been spliced together.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reichstag aus LICHT View Post
    It is a good one, but I seem to recall some odd shifts of perspective in places, as if different takes, with the singers standing in different positions, have been spliced together.
    Karajan recorded the thing in different takes like a huge tapestry. He could be a menace in the recording studio. However, apparently the duet was put together in one take.
    Last edited by DavidA; Aug-16-2019 at 16:07.

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