Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Tristan und Isolde
PERFORMER: John Mitchinson, Linda Esther Gray, Gwynne Howell, Phillip Joll, Anne Wilkens, Nicholas FolwellWelsh National Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Reginald Goodall
CATALOGUE NO: 443 682-2 DDD Reissue
For all its deficiencies, it always annoyed me that Decca held back from issuing Goodall’s account of Tristan on CD, instead giving precedence to Solti’s gaudy mid-Sixties account. This 1981 recording was taped in the studio following acclaimed performances in the theatre and benefits both from the detailed preparation for that production and from the long takes demanded in the studio by Goodall.

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The deficiencies are more matters of execution than interpretation. The WNO orchestra, for all its beautifully moulded wind playing, is no Vienna Philharmonic (it suffers from a particularly weak viola section). Nor are most of the singers comparable with the greatest singers of the roles. Nevertheless, Gray is a powerful, rich-toned Isolde (her career tragically came to an abrupt and premature end soon after this recording) and Mitchinson is as capable a Tristan as any (he can bark at times and sound strained), while Howell’s sympathetic King Marke is arguably the best on disc.

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But it is Goodall’s conducting that raises the performance above the level of the mere ‘provincial’. He takes a staggering forty minutes longer than Karl Böhm at Bayreuth (Philips; my personal favourite among Tristans on CD), but Goodall has such a command of articulation and pacing that the performance rarely sounds slow as such; indeed, the long takes bring an inexorability to the gradual build-ups of tension that is just as exciting and involving as Böhm’s more obviously white-heat approach. Matthew Rye