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Wagner: Tannhäuser, Siegfried-idyll, Etc / Karajan, Norman

Release Date: 10/25/1990 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 423613   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Jessye Norman
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Television seldom under-publicizes itself, but that was certainly the case in connection with the Channel 4 film celebrating Karajan's 80th birthday, which followed him round various events and their rehearsal at last year's Salzburg Festival and for the first time gave an intimate, true portrait of him as artist and man, warts and all. I shall never forget the Maestro caught backstage after a Don Giovanni, the applause ringing in his and our ears and his weary, grey eyes twinkling when he commented: "As Furtwängler would have said: 'it wasn't that good!' ". Another greatly revealing moment was the first rehearsal for the Liebestod included here. The soprano was summoned but wasn't required to sing a note. I don't think Read more Jessye Norman would have tolerated that treatment from any other conductor, but from Karajan she took it with a quizzical smile and an offhand remark.

Whatever the quirks of the preparations the performances of the Tristan extracts are very special. Karajan, so far as I know, hasn't been in contact with this opera for some years now; here he conducts both the Prelude and the finale with the kind of warm, mature love and dedication brought to late affections and re-encounters. The Prelude may not be as incandescent as Furtwangler's (EMI), as burnished as Böhm's (DG), as simply searing as Knappertsbusch's on a recently issued Decca CD ((0 414 625-2DH, 10/ 86), but it has a wonderful breadth and inevitability about it at a predictably slow pace, supreme perhaps in inner concentration. Norman's Liebestod (remarkably little changed since her Philips recording with Sir Cohn Davis—(D 412 655-2PH, 8/85) is trance-like, vibrant, literally so, as the vibrato is quite prominent and used to deeply expressive effect. The voice rides grandly over the might of the VPO but never loses its sheen or its nobility, and the final note is as finely floated as by Flagstad or Nilsson.

The Siegfried idyll is given a warm, richly contoured performance, elegiac in pace, not a reading to bring Out the spring-like joyfulness found in other, leaner accounts in the catalogue, but by no means stiff-jointed for all the slowness of the tempos and, almost needless to say, the playing is glorious. On the other hand, I did find the Tannhäuser Overture a bit too staid: the Venusberg music definitely sounds as though its orgiastic descriptions were viewed very much through the glasses of a veteran, but the majesty of the celebratory strains is well conveyed.

The recording shows no signs of being a live one, though the label tells us it is that. Maybe coughs and other concert-hall noises were eliminated by later 'takes'. But the performances have the frisson of spontaneity about them and that is what matters.

-- Gramophone [8/1988]
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Works on This Recording

Tannhäuser: Overture by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845/1861; Germany 
Venue:  Live  Salzburg Festival 
Length: 14 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1870; Germany 
Length: 19 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod (with voice) by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Jessye Norman (Soprano)
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859; Germany 
Length: 7 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Language: German 

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