Friday, August 23, 2013

You'll All Hate Me in a Minute.

Or at least doubt my judgment.

Several NY Times classical music writers, and Alex Ross in response to those writers, have posted lists of favorite Wagner recordings. Not quite universally on the lists is Furtw√§ngler's Tristan und Isolde.

I'm going to have to give it another listen, because that recording heads up a personal list of my own: Most Overrated Recordings of the Century.

I don't care that it's in mono. I care a lot about the fact that its Isolde, the great Kirsten Flagstad, is significantly diminished from even two years before on Furtw√§ngler's La Scala Ring. She is a shadow of what she sounded like in the 1930s.

I don't care about the Cs that Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sang for her (and, IMO, the Bs as well). I do care that Flagstad sounds thick-voiced and matronly, placid and without the kind of subtlety that might make one forget the losses. 

For me, this is what keeps the recording off my list of favorite Wagner recordings. To see why, compare the Flagstad of 1952 with the Flagstad of 1935 (or 1936 or...).


Patrick J. Vaz said...

I was going to leave a comment saying "OMG I HATE YOU NOW!!!" but, you know, laughter intervened. . ..

I'd enjoy hearing your alternate nominations for "Great [or even "greatest"] Tristan recording"

Dr.B said...

I remember trying to listen to it when I was in school and bailing long before the end from boredom. But I'm not a fan of Tristan. I would assign the entire opera to most overrated, but that's just me.

Joe Barron said...

I've long since given up trying to keep up with your judgments about opera recordings. I still don't have a complete Ring

Lisa Hirsch said...

I hardly post about my preferences in recordings, but the Furtwangler Tristan is a sacred cow recording that does not live up to its reputation.

As for the Ring, do you actually want a recording?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Dr. B., It took me months to get into Tristan, as in, months of listening to it more or less every day. Once it sank it....

Patrick, there's a list. :)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you.

I first got the Angel LPs of the Furtwangler T und I when I was in college, when I was at my Wagnerian first full blush.

I've since acquired another LP set of it (German EMI) and the EMI CDs.

On all three, Flagstad sounds to me like a contented mother of six, not like a passionate lover. I listen to the recording every once in a while because of Furtwangler's conducting.

To hear Flagstad's potential, listen to the 1936 Reiner/ROHCG version with Melchior. She's at her best, and Melchior will simply blow your mind in the 3rd act.

My other favorite T und I: Treptow/Braun/Knappertsbusch/Bavaria/1950. Give it a listen!

- Greg in SF

Lisa Hirsch said...

"Contented mother of six" is exactly right. I love the Reiner (VAI transfer by Ward Marston) and can also recommend the 1935 with Bodanzky, which is crazy in several ways.

I am also a fan of that Kna despite some issues with the singing itself - Klose past her prime, Braun wonderful but overparted, etc.

Daniel Wolf said...

Lisa, I trust you know this:

Henry Holland said...

Agree, that Tristan has long struck me as overrated (see also: the Kanpperstbusch Bayreuth 1962 Parsifal, with a past-it Hotter and a mediocre Jess Thomas).

You're right on about Flagstadt, but in addition, Ludwig Suthaus is an average Tristan, IMO.

My favorite Tristan is still the first one I got: the Nilsson/Windgassen/Bohm live recording from Bayreuth 1966. I know a lot of people don't like Bohm's frantic conducting but I find it really exciting and it helps fit the opera on 3 CD's!

Joe Barron said...

"As for the Ring, do you actually want a recording?"

Not anymore. ;)

Anonymous said...

It took me months to get into Tristan, as in, months of listening to it more or less every day. Once it sank it....

How long did it take you to get into Janacek's From The House Of The Dead?

I'm just curious.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I've loved Janacek from the moment I first heard any of his operas, back in the 1980s. I have never seen From the House of the Dead live, only on DVD; absolutely fabulous piece.

Unknown said...

@ Dr. B

"I would assign the entire opera to most overrated, but that's just me"


I would never say that. The only serious problem I've always had with it occurs at the beginning of the second scene of Act 2 (lasting about a minute), exactly when Tristan and Isolde rush in:

TRISTAN: Isolde! Beloved!

ISOLDE: Tristan Beloved! Are you mine?

TRISTAN: Do I hold you again?

ISOLDE: Dare I embrace you?

TRISTAN: Can I believe it?

ISOLDE: At last! At last!

TRISTAN: Here on my breast!

ISOLDE: Is it really you I feel?

TRISTAN: Do I really see you?

ISOLDE: These your eyes?

TRISTAN: These your lips?

ISOLDE: This your hand?

TRISTAN: This your heart?

and so on...

I invariably cringe whenever I hear this short segment.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That is because you have no soul.

Unknown said...

@ Lisa

"That is because you have no soul"


You don't know what you're talking about.

I am referring only to the opening segment of the second scene (the first minute) which I've always found to be overwrought, melodramatic and cheap.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Speaking dramatically and musically, what would you expect there? The opera has been building to that moment at a minimum since the downbeat of Act II, and arguably since the downbeat of the prelude - or, if you read Isolde's narrative, since the moment he looked her in the eye. These two have waited a while to fall into each other's arms, after all.

Joe Barron said...

I don't know that a moment that involves lovers being reunited would call for long speeches. But of course, if they're kissing, they can't sing. This bit is the voal/musical equivalent of leaping into bed. (Wagner once referred to T&I as an music drama without text.)

Unknown said...

Speaking dramatically and musically, what would you expect there?


Again, it’s the music only that I find problematic which to my ears just sounds ridiculous and superficial.

(Thankfully it lasts no more than a minute)