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Dip Your Ears, No. 7

R. Wagner, Tristan und Isolde (live), Christian Thielemann

Another Tristan from Universal Classics, this time the May 2003 (live) account from the Vienna State Opera that was rightly hailed for the debut of Deborah Voigt as the first American Isolde in Vienna. The cast is, for modern times, quite outstanding: Petra Lang is a most splendid Brangäne, Thomas Moser not a strong but convincing Tristan, Robert Holl a very fine Marke. But more than anything else, this is about Thielemann and his relationship with the Vienna forces that respond with their best playing to this conductor, who has had few equals in the late German Romantic repertoire.

Munich must be salivating to have him take on their Philharmonic [Ed. alas, not for that long], continuing the tradition that had its sumptuous glory honed by the late Celibidache before James Levine (now in Boston) took over. Thielemann makes Wagner glow and bristle that it is a joy. The recording, live as it is, is marred by some uneven balances—the choir especially is set rather far back compared to all studio recordings and other live accounts—and the stage noises, contributing at times, can be distracting at other times. The fine Tristan this is, it does not replace among modern recordings my cherished Barenboim version with Waltraud Meier, Siegfried Jerusalem, Marijana Lipovsek, etc.. As far as live versions go, Karl Böhm's recording (also on three CDs) with Birgit Nilsson and Wolfgang Windgassen holds out. Furtwängler's, too, is still a Tristan to listen to, despite its age, especially in its new cheap EMI edition. To explore either Thielemann's or Voigt's artistry, this is a great set to have, and if you have only this Tristan in your collection, you aren't off badly at all, either.

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