Little to add to his usual fair assessments, although I do note on my shelves some absentees worthy of comment. However, viewers and listeners should beware the lure of Karajan at La Scala in 1959 with what appears to be a dream team of Nilsson, Windgassen, Hotter as the King, Niedlinger as Kurvenal and Rossel-Majdan as Bragane; it was probably a dream performance too, but alas the sonics are the stuff of nightmares and you can barely hear anything at all. A similar fate befalls Bohm at Orange in 1973, with Nilsson again, along with Vickers and Walter Berry – such a quartet promises much, but the sound is distant and opaque, plus the production static, rendering both CD as well as DVD of this performance worthy only of curiousity value. Ones to steer clear of, I would contend.
Happily, Karajan live at Salzburg in 1972 sees the same cast and orchestra from the EMI recording captured in much, much better sound, with none of the occasional strange aural effects from the studio either – I like this one very much. I also prefer Kleiber live to his DG studio account, specifically at Bayreuth in 1974 with Catarina Ligendza and Helge Brilioth (the Siegfried on Karajan’s Gotterdammerung) as the main protagonists, ably supported by Yvonne Minton and Kurt Moll. Of course, the sound in the studio is better, but this live account seems, well, more alive !
Tristan is probably my favourite Wagner, along with Gotterdammerung – and both would feature in my top dozen favourite operas of them all. I find it hard to fault Ralph’s top ten Tristans, even if I personally find Bohm just a bit too speedy for my own, more leisurely tastes. That said, somewhere in the dark and shadowy recesses of my memory, I recollect reading Robin Holloway’s own Tristan conspectus in the almost-as-old-as-I-am Opera on Record, where he suggested his ideal Tristan recording would be made by three conductors. I cannot remember who it was for Act 1 (Busch maybe), but I’m pretty sure it was Furtwangler for Act III and Stokowski for Act II ! Mind you, the latter did produce some real miracles with those fabulous Philadelphians in the Liebesnacht .... But it does go to show what an endlessly fascinating work this is and well done again to Ralph for another excellent survey !
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