As a total human experience that brings Wagner's score directly to the heart and sustains that emotional involvement throughout almost five hours, this is a remarkable recording indeed.
In Fanfare 5:4 I reviewed the LP release of this 1981 recording, and stated: "I listened through this set seven or eight times before committing myself to this review. . . . Throughout that process, Goodall's performance has continued to grow in my estimation. I believe this to be one of the most important Wagnerian recordings ever made, one that future generations will label 'historic.' As a total human experience, an experience that brings Wagner's score directly to the heart and sustains that emotional involvement throughoutRead more almost five hours, this is a remarkable set of records indeed."
Well, my timing was a bit off (it's closer to four hours than to five), but fourteen years have not changed my view of the recording; in fact, the years have only strengthened my feelings. When people speak of the important Tristan recordings, Furtwängler's comes immediately to mind (as well it should), as does the Reiner/Flagstad/Melchior from 1936 (on VAI). Then others note the Böhm/Nilsson on DG, Karajan's 1952 Bayreuth Festival performance with Modi and Vinay (on Arkadia), or his EMI set with Vickers and Dernesch. Not too many people mention this Decca set in that league, probably because its singers are not international Wagnerian stars and its conductor is known only to a few cognoscenti and to British critics, who are often accused of chauvinism anyhow (not without cause, I might add).
Make no mistake about it, though: this is a truly great performance, engineered with marvel-ously free and open sound and a very natural perspective. Its total impact earns it consideration as the basic Tristan for any collection. Goodall is at the center of the performance and every effective detail stems from him, but not in a way that calls attention to itself. He hand-picked the cast and coached them with unusual thoroughness. The result is a performance of total ensemble, a performance where every line tells, every musical phrase from each singer or the orchestra is fitted into what went before it and what comes after it. Characters interact with each other rather than sing to us, and the result is as close to Wagner's total concept of musical drama as it may be possible to come.
None of that would count if the voices couldn't cut it, but that is not an issue. Linda Esther Gray sounds like a genuine Isolde; I don't know why she never became a Wagnerian superstar; perhaps in the theater her voice did not carry sufficiently, though there is no sense here of artificial help from the microphones. Her curse is blood-curdling (in the best sense of that word) in act I, but once she drinks the potion she is all tenderness and vulnerability. Her high Cs in the second act ring out freely, thrillingly. At the end, in her Liebestod, she gives us both dignity and ecstasy, the right combination. Mitchinson is not quite in her league. His voice is a bit leathery where we might prefer liquid beauty, but how many Tristans have given us liquid beauty? Mitchinson brings to the role a surprising range of vocal color, genuine passion, strong musicianship, and a great deal of specificity in word-painting. In the act III delirium we are drawn into Tristan's agony. The other singers are more than adequate; Joli a vital, human Kurwenal (far less wooden than many) and Howell finding the right balance between strength, nobility, and compassion as Marke.
But it is the conducting that is the raison d'être of this set. While Goodall's tempos are slightly on the slow side, they never drag, and certainly never want for power. At the climax of act I, where most conductors rush to a frenetic close, he lets the music build slowly and inevitably, and the crushing effect is surely what Wagner had in mind (it is not, after all, a Verdian or Rossinian finale). When the lovers meet in act II, the orchestra consumes us in a raging sea of passion. The love duet is sensual, undulating, highly erotic. Goodall obeys Wagner's markings scrupulously, but more than that he has thought about what each marking means and what part it plays in the whole, how it fits. No one moment of the score calls attention to itself, or stands apart. It is, in fact, in the area of relationships between tempos and transitions from one to the other that Goodall is uniquely effective, along with his keen ear for harmonic tension, balance, and color.
I won't go on. This is a truly great Wagner recording, and in my view it is the finest modern recording of Tristan. The orchestral playing is for the most part superb, though there are occasional ragged attacks and releases (Goodall was said to be less than clear with his stick). None of those are a distraction from the kind of performance that the recording industry was meant to preserve. Decca may not be releasing this on its London label in the United States, so you might have to get it as a British import. I can think of few recordings more worthy of such an effort.
Tristan und Isoldeby Richard Wagner Performer:
Geoffrey Moses (Bass),
Arthur Davies (Tenor),
Linda Esther Gray (Soprano),
Phillip Joll (Baritone),
Nicholas Folwell (Baritone),
Gwynne Howell (Bass),
Anne Wilkens (Mezzo Soprano),
John Mitchinson (Tenor),
John Harris (Tenor)
Welsh National Opera Chorus,
Welsh National Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1857-1859; Germany Date of Recording: 1980-1981 Venue: Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Featured Sound Samples
Tristan und Isolde: Act I: Prelude
Act III: "So stürben wir"
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Best Modern RecordingJanuary 2, 2016By thomas f. (Fishertown, PA)See All My Reviews"I just listened to this today. Linda Esther Gray has a tremendous voice. Her career was cut short by illness. She would have become a great Wagner voice. She had to settle for becoming a teacher. This is her Legacy. It 's the best modern recording available. It will not disappoint. I also want to say that the service at Arkiv music is really great. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."Report Abuse
Tristan und Isolde / Reginald GoodallApril 24, 2013By Pietro Romani (Roma, Italia)See All My Reviews"I can't english, i'll write a few words in italian: magnifico Tristan! Emozionante, intenso, splendide voci (Isolde e Brangäne soprattutto!)e sontuosa la direzione di Goodall. Il più bel Tristan in disco insieme a Furtwängler, Solti e Bernstein!! Ce ne sono tanti di ottimi Tristan: quelli di Boehm, di Karajan, di Kleiber,Barenboin,...ma questo (abbastanza raro ?) di Goodall ha qualcosa in più ??"Report Abuse