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Thread: Furtwänglar: Tristan and Isolde

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    Default Furtwänglar: Tristan and Isolde

    I am re-visiting this opera after some time.

    I have to say that the monaural sound quality of this ancient 1952 recording is just plain awful - IMO to the point where the appreciation of the quality of the performance is seriously compromised. I realize this is hailed as one of the great interpretations, but I have a very hard time listening to it. It may be that the poor quality of the recording is more apparent through headphones - but to my ears it is like standing in the foyer of the opera house and listening to the performance through closed doors.

    It seems recording tecnology went through a revolution somewhere between 1952 and 1955. I have an excellent 1955 recording of the Marriage of Figaro in very acceptable stereo - yet only three years ealier - this - and by a very competent producer, too.

    For the same reason I find much of Callas' out put "difficult". Such a pity she did not record in the studio just a few years later when stereo had become the norm.

    (BTW: I find Karajan's 1972 recording of T. & I. wonderful - both sound and performance are wonderful. With Solti the vocalists are too far back in the mix).
    Last edited by KRoad; Aug-07-2019 at 12:35.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    That's very surprising. Others and i have said that it is very good mono. i sometimes forget that it is mono.
    Last edited by Itullian; Aug-07-2019 at 11:24.
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    Senior Member NLAdriaan's Avatar
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    Likely on headphones you will have relative worse sound, on speaker it sounds OK to me. You also might try Kleiber, his DG studio recording is especially good on headphones, Margaret Price is great for close listening and it is digitally recorded.

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    If this is the same EMI recording that you have, I find the mono sound more than acceptable and I’m listening through an audiophile set of headphones. It sounds open and natural to me. The stereo era might not have began in 1952, but I still wouldn’t consider it the dark ages of poor recorded sound. I would compare the sound of your recording to this one because maybe there’s a problem somewhere:



    I find this performance magical and irresistible — a classic that’s hard to resist once it starts because of how it touches the emotions. Wagner was capable of writing with such great sensuality and passion. There’s something epic in this love story that’s bigger than anything else I’ve heard (not that there haven’t been other great love stories in opera).
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Aug-07-2019 at 14:03.
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    I've found the same thing with regards to the sound on that recording (the same goes for Furty's studio Walkure). Maybe EMI's early mono techniques compromise Wagner's large orchestral palette too much. I don't have a problem with other EMI mono sets from the same era and the Callas recordings seem much better produced to my ears, so I don't agree with you there.

    I'm also not a fan of Flagstad and I find Suthaus OK, but this recording hasn't ever quite done it for me. (I love the opera, though.) That said, this is a recording that I would like to listen to again once I have the time as it is such a classic.

    My go to Tristan is the live Karajan from 52 with even worse sound! However, I can put up with that due to the radiance of the performance from all concerned.

    N.

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    Senior Member DarkAngel's Avatar
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    Best sound for this is Pristine XR, try this long HD sound sample, voices are finely detailed......

    https://www.pristineclassical.com/pr...d9b709a1&_ss=r





    Fanfare Mag review:

    The real question for collectors is whether this Pristine transfer is significantly superior to the earlier ones. I had praise for both EMI’s and Naxos’s versions, giving a very slight edge to the Naxos transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn. I was not expecting a meaningful difference in Andrew Rose’s effort for Pristine, but in fact it is enough of an improvement to warrant its purchase by any serious collector. In addition to listening to it all the way through, I did a number of spot A-B comparisons to the EMI and Naxos. It seems to me that Rose has managed to come up with a sound picture that is fuller at both the upper and lower extremes of frequency, without ever turning the sound harsh. It is the bass that is particularly impressive here—never boomy, but satisfyingly solid with an impact missing until now. The orchestral colors are richer, the voices bloom more, and the whole is more satisfying than it has ever been. I heard the ambient stereo version, but assume the monaural version that Pristine also issues is of equal quality.
    Last edited by DarkAngel; Aug-07-2019 at 14:59.

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DarkAngel View Post
    Best sound for this is Pristine XR, try this long HD sound sample, voices are finely detailed......

    https://www.pristineclassical.com/pr...d9b709a1&_ss=r





    Fanfare Mag review:
    The nine-minute example excerpt sounds very good and the sound floor seems noticeably quieter and very agreeable. Evidently, the editor also did some pitch correction that hadn’t been done in 60 years. Nevertheless, I think the EMI recording is still very good and quite affordable if one doesn’t mind used copies.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Aug-07-2019 at 15:26.
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    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
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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. With Solti the vocalists are too far back in the mix).
    You might want to try the Bohm. It's my favorite version (notwithstanding that I have the Pristine version for Furt and I think the sound quality on the EMI is fine anyways).

    Lately, it's my favorite version by such a big margin that I frequently find myself starting to listen to the Karajan, or the Furt, or the Bernstein, or the Kleiber, or whatever, and within an hour or two, I find myself irresistibly drawn to listening to the Bohm instead. Nilsson is to me completely unmatched as Isolde; Bohm's urgent and theatrical approach is intensely gripping. It was a stage recording (although recorded one act at a time and in front of a small select invited audience) so it's not quite as luscious as a studio recording, but it's in good stereo sound.
    Last edited by howlingfantods; Aug-07-2019 at 23:55.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    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..
    Last edited by DavidA; Aug-07-2019 at 20:50.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    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.
    20 years before? That would have been 1932, three years before America even knew of her existence! Flagstad made her Met debut at the age of forty and can be heard in prime vocal estate in live recordings through the 1930s, with the last such recording from Teatro Colon in 1948. In 1952 Flagstad was 57 years old and all but her top few notes were still free and luxuriant, filling out both the passionate and the intimate phrases of Wagner's larger-than-life character as few others can. "Matronly" is very much in the ear of the beholder.

    I never cared whether the Furtwangler Tristan sounded good or not. It has unique musical values.

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    Senior Member Couchie's Avatar
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    As a Wagnerian I can say I straight-up don't care for Flagstad. This opera is about erotic passion which is not Flagstad. Flagstad is not sexy!

    This is my favorite CD:

    Last edited by Couchie; Aug-08-2019 at 02:20.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    As a Wagnerian I can say I straight-up don't care for Flagstad. This opera is about erotic passion which is not Flagstad. Flagstad is not sexy!

    This is my favorite CD:

    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.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Aug-08-2019 at 05:29.

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    Senior Member howlingfantods'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.
    Hm, not sure why Boheme needs to take a stray bullet in this argument.

    I'll sort of endorse Couchie's point in a different way--I'm not sure that I would consider any of the extant Isoldes to be remotely sexy, but I do think they need to be passionate, and be capable of portraying this character full of extreme emotions--the anger and betrayal and repressed love in Act 1, the ecstatic wonder of Act 2 and the devastation and transfiguration of Act 3. And as beautifully as Flagstad sings the role, the most apt word to describe her performance is "marmoreal".

    Ultimately for me, I find her performance pretty dissatisfying because she feels almost to me to be an orator orating the role instead of an actor inhabiting her role. I often feel that way about both her and Melchior, actually, which is why as much as I appreciate their beautiful vocalizing, I often find lesser singers but more dramatic performers more satisfying.
    Last edited by howlingfantods; Aug-08-2019 at 15:52.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by howlingfantods View Post
    Hm, not sure why Boheme needs to take a stray bullet in this argument.

    I'll sort of endorse Couchie's point in a different way--I'm not sure that I would consider any of the extant Isoldes to be remotely sexy, but I do think they need to be passionate, and be capable of portraying this character full of extreme emotions--the anger and betrayal and repressed love in Act 1, the ecstatic wonder of Act 2 and the devastation and transfiguration of Act 3. And as beautifully as Flagstad sings the role, the most apt word to describe her performance is "marmoreal".

    Ultimately for me, I find her performance pretty dissatisfying because she feels almost to me to be an orator orating the role instead of an actor inhabiting her role. I often feel that way about both her and Melchior, actually, which is why as much as I appreciate their beautiful vocalizing, I often find lesser singers but more dramatic performers more satisfying.
    What bullet? Did I say that anything is wrong with La Boheme? Soap opera doesn't come any better.

    I understand your reservations about Flagstad. She had a placid temperament; Frida Leider before her and Birgit Nilsson after her were more intense and volatile (and then there were Modl and Varnay, for those who can tolerate them). Still, Flagstad was vocal royalty, and heard live, as on the night of Jan. 2, 1937, she was a princess to die for - passionate, tender and sensual. No one has poured sheer legato beauty into "Er sah mir in die Auge..." as she did. More than any other soprano, she made Wagner's vocal lines beautiful.

    I love Nilsson's Isolde under Bohm in '66, especially in the first act, but when I first heard her in the opening scene of Act II I was disappointed, feeling that she and Bohm failed to capture the sheer Romantic poetry of the music the way Flagstad and Furtwangler did. For me both recordings are essential for bringing out different facets of a work that no one one performance can ever do full justice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by howlingfantods View Post
    Ultimately for me, I find her performance pretty dissatisfying because she feels almost to me to be an orator orating the role instead of an actor inhabiting her role. I often feel that way about both her and Melchior, actually, which is why as much as I appreciate their beautiful vocalizing, I often find lesser singers but more dramatic performers more satisfying.
    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."
    Last edited by amfortas; Aug-08-2019 at 18:53.
    Alan

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