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Reviewed, Not Necessarily Recommended: Tristan & Terrible

available at Amazon
R.Wagner, Tristan & Isolde,
V.d.Sabata / La Scala / various

WAGNER Tristan und Isolde | Victor De Sabata, cond; Max Lorenz (Tristan); Sven Nilsson (King Marke); Gertrude Grob-Prandl (Isolde); Sigurd Björling (Kurnewal); Vincenzo Mria Demetz (Melot); Elsa Cavelti (Brangäne); Gino Del Signore (Shepard); Enrico Campi (Steersman); Luciano Della Pergola (Young Sailor); La Scala O & Ch | MYTO 00219 (3 CDs: 190:59)

This Tristan had been out on Nuova Era, Walhall, and probably any other label that specializes in opera recordings of sketchy provenance. Now it is Myto’s turn to entice us. The cast has always been so very tempting to hear, but the sound was—and remains— excruciatingly bad. It’s one of those things you know should be great, somehow, so you try again and again, the memory of disappointment soon giving way again to the hopeful conviction that something so potentially awesome should be better than it is.

If you’ve not heard the recording, or one of similar sound quality, here’s how to approximate the experience: First dent the tweeters of your speakers, then place them in a bonfire of sappy young spruce, and then submerge all that inside an aquarium. Finally, turn on the radio upstairs, preferably tuned to marching band music. It might just give you that heart-warming sense of pre-echo, dim wobbliness, crackle & crashing that signifies to the cognoscenti: Ahh, the “Golden Age”. With good ears and a little more patience than I had, you should even be able to identify the piece of music that bleeds over into Tristan.

The performance, if you get that far and to the extent it can conscionably be discussed, is modest, at best. You can get a decent amount of information from the men’s voices. Less so from Sigurd Björling, because he pushes too hard which results in distortion, but Lorenz sounds sensitive, relaxed: a beautiful secure tenor… until the second part of the third act, from whereon he, too, is distorted beyond all recognition. Where the blame belongs—his tiring voice or the recording—is not quite clear.

The women pretty much sound ridiculous with all the muffled distortion making for a shrill, deranged chicken-like sound and baa-baa soprano sheep. The Liebestod is a blood-curdling, deafening affair suited to turn anyone but the hardest historical Wagner-buffs off opera for months if not years. The cuts in the score don’t reflect the current Zeitgeist, but it would be absolutely churlish to decry them here; à la “The food here is horrible” – “Yes, and the portions are so small!”

The presentation is bare-bones cheap: a cast list, two pictures, track listings (no timings) and inside the leaflet the line: “We apologize for the bad sound quality”. Might have printed that on the cover, instead.


Charles T. Downey said...

Hahaha -- thanks for the good laugh this morning. I needed it.

Anonymous said...