Reviews for IPCD 1019-1
Wagner TRISTAN UND ISLODE Act III
Colin Clarke - FANFARE November/December 2012
Various conds; Lauritz Melchior (Tristan); Göta Ljungberg (Isolde); Herbert Janssen (Kurwenal); Ivar Andresen (King Mark); Genia Guszalewicz (Brangaene); Peter Klein (Shepherd); 1Friedrich Schorr (bass bar); various orchestras
Also: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Act II: Gut’n Abend, Meister; Göta Ljungberg and Friedrich Schorr
IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1019 (72:20)
The idea of fantasy performances of Wagner continues with this astonishing achievement. The Tristan act is put together from various sources and commemorates the 1932 performances of Tristan that featured Melchior and Ljungberg. The Prelude is a magnificent piece of conducting (it is actually Rodzinski with the New York Philharmonic Symphony, Columbia MM 573). The heavy mood is nonetheless lovely (the strings are burnished and simply magnificent). Everything is perfectly balanced, perhaps a cry from the Earth, perhaps a chthonic awakening issuing all the way from the Lovecraftian mythos. It makes a powerful effect, certainly. The atmosphere is so well set up that presumably only critics stop to actually notice the tremendous control from the strings.
We move seamlessly to Tristan’s “Kurwenal! He!” (Leinsdorf with the Columbia Symphony on Columbia 71601/02; later Teatro Colón, with a rather dry acoustic, conducted by Roberto Kinsky). Interestingly I independently used the word “seamlessly” above, only to find it in the booklet, so this product really does do what it says on the packet (and it wasn’t the only thing I found in the booklet—keep reading).
The monologs of Tristan here take on a world-weary tinge, decimated and touching. The effect is oppressive, something heightened by the strings’ extra-delicate playing, their fragility reflecting the tenuous nature of Tristan’s very existence on this earthly plane. Again, it is the blight of the critics to have our attention catapulted to the excellence of Caniell’s realization of his conception, and the way he has achieved flow. Herbert Janssen is a tremendously strong Kurwenal, as one might expect.
The actual arrival of the ship is ecstatic. True, there are harsh upper strings and some loss of orchestral detail, but these hardly matter. Ljungberg is certainly lighter than most Isoldes. Her section of the act is from 1927 Victor discs conducted by Albert Coates (London Symphony Orchestra), Leo Blech (Berlin State Opera Orchestra), and Lawrence Collingwood (LSO again). The point is that she’s amazing, absolutely convincing as a young woman in love who is in immediate post-mortem grief. The transfiguration is staggering. This is one of the faster Transfiguations, certainly, but it fits in well with the overall high-octane emotions of the act.
Do I feel like I have heard a complete act III in the true sense (as a complete musical experience rather than with no notes missing)? Perhaps the juxtaposition of different conductors does mean, inevitably, that one does not quite feel the large-scale structure of the act in the way one might with, say, a Goodall or a Furtwängler. But it is worth it for the singing, without doubt. This is far, far more than a patchwork quilt curio.
Finally as far as Tristan is concerned, it would be strange indeed if I did not at least touch upon the fact that I am quoted in the booklet note. Richard Caniell refers to me as “the well-known Colin Clarke” (I am not so sure about the well-known bit at all!). Caniell took me to task (rightly) for stating that Melchior sounded “tired and strained” in the third act of the 1940 Met Tristan on Guild 2266/68 when I reviewed that set back in 2004—not for a magazine though, as the booklet states, but for a website, Musicweb International. Like Banquo’s ghost, my previous writings have come back to haunt me. Certainly listening to this Tristan, one can hear Melchior’s magnificent portrayal of a man on the brink of complete exhaustion.
The Bonus: Die Meistersinger Act II, Sachs and Eva duet
Cornwall and Nürnberg might not be geographically that far away in this age of jet travel, but musically they inhabit very different universes, albeit both underneath the Wagnerian umbrella. Collingwood’s conducting (May 1931 with the London Philharmonic, from Victor 7680) ensures we are in no doubt of our new surroundings. It is somewhat discombobulating to do a straight run-though of the disc, I found. The disc surfaces here seem much better. Schorr is, perhaps predictably, magnificent, while Ljungberg displays a Rethberg-like freshness of voice. It is beautifully conducted, too. Fascinating fodder.
Wagner TRISTAN UND ISLODE Act III
Mel Siegel - The Record Collector - September 2012
This Immortal Performances release of Act 3 of Tristan und Isolde is the latest of
Richard Caniell's series 'The Opera House of Our Dreams', in which he attempts to recreate performances which actually took place, but were not recorded. This is accomplished by assembling a performance from a variety of sources, which are then conjoined to result in a single coherent whole. In this instance Caniell has set out to recreate some performances at the Met in 1932 in which Ljungberg and Melchior sang the title roles. Inasmuch as Janssen sang Kurwenal to Melchior's Tristan in London in 1932, Caniell feels justified in creating this performance. His notes explain the connections of the other artists to the performance.
The final product is the result of the piecing together of this Act a Tristan from
no fewer than six different sources which date from 1927 through 1949 and include commercial sets recorded on 78 rpm discs as well as off-the-air live broadcasts. The results are quite amazing, as Caniell displays sonic wizardry worthy of Harry Potter to weld these disparate sources into a convincing single entity. The various original recordings are joined so seamlessly that only a slight difference in ambience is detectable where joins occur, and the ear is not at all offended while listening to the performance. This is a most laudable accomplishment in view of the vast differences among the sources.
And what of the performance? On the whole, it is most impressive. The bulk of it comprises the scenes recorded commercially by Melchior and Janssen 1943 conducted by Erich Leuisdorf, which has long been familiar to collectors. This recording is one of the supreme realizations of this portion of Tristan, particularly in Caniell"s restoration, which gives us Melchior and Janssen in as close to high fidelity as we are ever likely to hear. What can be said of Melchior at this juncture that has not already been said? To those who have never heard other than the current lamentable crop of Wagnerians, Melchior will seem like some superhuman alien who has arrived from some other planet In addition to thrilling, prodigious vocalism, we hear a total identification with the character and the insight and ability to express appropriately the entire complex range of emotions, from bleak despair to ecstatic excitement. With every year that passes, Melchior's status as uniquely supreme heldontenor only increases. Herbert Janssen is equally adept at presenting every facet of Kurwenal's character, and his beautiful voice and variety of tonal colours are a pleasure to hear.
Gota Ljungberg is not the Isolde of my dreams. Her tightly focused voice with its rapid intrusive vibrato is not ideal for someone who has the voices of Leider, Flagstad and Nilsson in his ear. This being said, LJungberg is certainly equal to the vocal and dramatic demands of the role, and is an estimable artist. She is also poorly -served by the wretched sonics of the 1927 studio recording, which is the source of her music; especially in comparison with the excellent sound of the Melchior Janssen set. There is a vast gulf between the sound of the 1927 and 1943 sets. In fact, Caniell gives us as a bonus Ljungberg's 1931 recording of the Act 2 Meistersinger duet with Friedrich Schorr, which gives us a much more appealing image of her voice. Ivar Andresen is mightily impressive as King Marke, Genia Guszalewicz less so as Brangane. Caniell does not tell us the source of their music, and despite the claim of completeness a good deal of it is missing.* In sum, a most interesting release, well worth hearing, and a mostly impressive reminder of a vanished age of glorious Wagnerian performances.
These are performance cuts typical of the Met performances of this era. Guszalewicz and Ivar Andresen sang these roles in the Ljungberg recording. Andresen also sang King Marke in Met performances in which Melchior and Ljungberg sang the title roles. [RMC]
Wagner TRISTAN UND ISLODE Act III
Henry Fogel - FANFARE November/December 2012
This disc is the result of a very interesting idea by historic restorer/producer Richard Caniell. Calling this a performance from “The Opera House of Our Dreams,” he has assembled a virtually complete third act of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde that was never, in fact, recorded—putting together perhaps the greatest Tristan since the dawn of recordings, Lauritz Melchior, with the Swedish soprano Göta Ljungberg, who was not one of his regular partners in this opera and who didn’t record this music with him. They did sing the opera together in 1932, and it is those performances that live in Caniell’s dreams, and which he tried to re-create here. Caniell combined a number of sources, which he outlines in his accompanying notes, to make as complete a third act as possible. All that is missing is music that was regularly cut in the opera house and on recordings in those days (those days being the 1920s through the 1940s), which is a chunk of Tristan’s long and demanding delirium scene.
Caniell has done a superb job of editing, and of making recordings with a wide range of acoustical qualities that blend together very convincingly. One is aware of the changes, but only mildly. It is more than acoustics that change—conductors come and go throughout the act as well. We have Rodzinski, Leinsdorf, Lawrence Collingwood, Albert Coates, and Roberto Kinsky (from Teatro Colón). The core of the performance is the big scene between Tristan and Kurwenal recorded by Columbia under Erich Leinsdorf.
If we did not have good live performance recordings of the whole opera with Melchior, this would be an extraordinarily valuable documentation of one of the gigantic Wagnerian portrayals of the 20th century. Melchior’s Tristan was in its time, and remains today, without parallel. The voice has a unique combination of metallic ring and glowing beauty that has never been duplicated. He was sensitive to dynamics and to phrasing, in particular using all of the dynamics between piano and fortissimo naturally and persuasively. But he was even better in the opera house than the studio, and we can choose from a 1936 Covent Garden performance with Flagstad and Reiner on Naxos, a 1940 Met performance with Flagstad and Leinsdorf on Music & Arts, and a 1943 Met performance with Traubel and Leinsdorf on Naxos. Caniell makes a case in his notes as to why he finds Ljungberg’s Isolde more appealing than Flagstad’s or Traubel’s (“closer to our world,” less “Olympian”), but to me her more narrowly focused tone lacks the amplitude that the other two sopranos offer and that seems to me to fit Wagner’s score more fully. Nonetheless, Ljungberg was an important Wagnerian soprano, and committed Wagnerians are likely to enjoy the results of Caniell’s wizardry here. Janssen offers a sensitive, well-sung Kurvenal. The brief Meistersinger scene is a bonus—brilliantly conducted by Collingwood.
*NOTE:Mr. Caniell wrote the Editor of Fanfare regarding this review:
“In Mr. Fogel’s expressive review he misinterprets my booklet remarks to mean that Ljungberg is more appealing to me as Isolde than Flagstad and Traubel, but what I cited in my text were their differences. I wrote of Flagstad’s ‘noble restraint’, that her ‘. . . Liebestod gives us an Isolde who has already departed from this plane; her expression is hued with a supernatural calm.’ Traubel gives us a ‘ . . . grandeur of expression . . . who lives in a world of epic love, loss and death.’ Ljungberg offers ‘ . . . a feminine enthrallment so fragile that it catches one by the throat.’ I concluded, ‘Each approach is valid and touching. . . . I wouldn’t want to be without either.’ My personal favorite among the three is Flagstad."
Mr. Fogel wrote back stating that he may well have misinterpreted Mr. Caniell's notes.