Wagner: Tristan and Isolde

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Wilhelm Fürtwängler brings Wagner's epic love story to life

Kirsten Flagstad, Ludwig Suthaus etc; Philharmonia/Wilhelm Furtwängler (1952) EMI 585 8732

This superlative recording, made in London in 1952 and never out of the catalogue, was the first complete one of Tristan und Isolde, and contains several lengthy passages from the love duet in Act II and Tristan’s delirium in Act III that many lovers of the work had never heard before.

With the greatest Isolde of her time, Kirsten Flagstad, radiant despite being 57, and a Tristan, Ludwig Suthaus, whom Wilhelm Furtwängler inspired to extraordinary heights, the two leads have never been equalled. The Philharmonia Orchestra is at its absolute peak, too; and, working in long takes, the result is that the unique intensity and continuity of this score is caught as it has never been again.

Furtwängler, who had notoriously loathed recording, was converted overnight to the process when he heard the test pressings – and said that he had never before realised what a supreme work Tristan is.

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