Tristan und Isolde

Robert Heger
Männerchor der Staatsoper Berlin
Staatskapelle Berlin
14-18 May 1943
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanMax Lorenz
IsoldePaula Buchner
BrangäneMargarete Klose
KurwenalJaro Prohaska
König MarkeLudwig Hofmann
MelotEugen Fuchs
Ein junger SeemannBenno Arnold
Ein HirtErich Zimmermann
SteuermannFelix Fleischer

I endorse this on the understanding that allowances must be made for the sound of historical recordings of this artistic quality – yet you do not have to be unduly indulgent towards this 1943 studio recording, as it compares very favourably with classic live recordings from the 50’s such as those by Karajan and Knappertsbusch. In any case, such is the standard of the singing and playing that the listener is soon lost in that peculiarly intense and archetypal world of Wagner’s creation and minor sonic imperfections, such as the occasional drop-out or a little distortion, are tolerable. Unfortunately, there is some damage to the original during the latter part of the love duet in Act 2, but generally this is as good as many a mono recording from ten years later.

Apart from the sound quality, the other immediately noticeable surprise is the absolute rightness of Robert Heger’s conducting. In my review of the 1953 live Jochum recording from Bayreuth, I am full of praise for the two principal singers but have reservations about Jochum’s sometimes pale and erratic contribution; it is straight away apparent even in the Prelude that Heger has a much better grasp of the requisite ebb and flow of this music. The pace, intensity and sweep I hear in the greatest readings, such as those by Böhm in 1966 or the aforementioned 50’s performances, are here in abundance – and the decent balance here between voices and orchestra gives you ample opportunity to savour it.

Both principals have very bright, clean voices blessed with pure top notes and great power. Lorenz can justly be grouped within the select group of the four greatest Tristans, the others being Vinay, Vickers and, of course, Melchior. His diction is the best you will ever hear from a Tristan and his voice, while not exactly beautiful and slightly hard of tone, has a virile ring. He brings a long line and a desperate pathos to his visionary narrative of Isolde’s approaching ship in Act 3, despite a tendency to sing too loudly. Paula Buchner will not be known to many current collectors yet we would be so grateful to hear such an Isolde today: womanly, intense, clean of attack if not with quite the command of nuance brought to the role by the most celebrated exponents of this most taxing of roles for a dramatic soprano alongside Brünnhilde. Her vibrato can obtrude on occasion; there is the odd wobble, scoop and sour note but by and large she is admirable. Jaro Prohaska delivers a bluff, honest account of Kurwenal; Margaret Klose is similarly forthright and sure of voice, as you would expect from a famous Ortrud. Ludwig Hoffmann’s warm, steady, nutty bass gives us a fatherly Marke, touching and detailed in his use of the words with the same pellucid diction typical of singers of the time.

Any lover of Tristan und Isolde will want to own this time capsule recording.

Ralph Moore | August 2018

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Preiser, Grammofono 2000, Line, OOA, HO
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Technical Specifications
357 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 564 MiB (flac)
There is a cut from Act 2, Scene 2, in this performance: from “Dem Tage! Dem Tage!” (Tristan) to “…wahres zu sehen tauge” (Tristan). [Jonathan Brown]