Wagner Tristan und Isolde
This is the latest in the highly successful series of complete Wagner operas under Marek Janowski and is by some way the least satisfactory, though it has its merits. Chief among them is the superb playing of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, from which Janowski demands heroic efforts in speed and intensity. He favours a swift performance, and in this live Tristan that means excitement more than emotion.
Soprano Nina Stemme is the ranking Isolde of our time; she has a beautiful voice and paces herself perfectly. But I can’t hear much passion in the delivery nor much concentration on specific details of interpretation. Tenor Stephen Gould is also unflagging but in the first two acts his only virtue is volume. Oddly, he comes to life in the immensely taxing Act III, where he sings with ardour and once or twice even manages a soft phrase. But the two voices are ill-suited and the duet in Act II is less moving than it should be.
Of the other characters, only Isolde’s maid Brangäne is inadequate but it’s an important role. She sounds short-breathed and bossy whereas she should be concerned and calming. The recording tends to favour the singers at the expense of the orchestra.