Tristan und Isolde

Hans Knappertsbusch
Chor und Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper München
23 July 1950
Prinzregententheater München
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanGünther Treptow
IsoldeHelena Braun
BrangäneMargarete Klose
KurwenalPaul Schöffler
König MarkeFerdinand Frantz
MelotAlbrecht Peter
Ein junger SeemannPaul Kuën
Ein HirtPaul Kuën
SteuermannFritz Richard Bender
Jonathan Brown

The live performance from Munich in 1950 was a decisive turn for the better, despite problems with the sound quality in the regions of fortissimo. It is the earliest unabridged performance we have on record, and comes from the baton of the great Hans Knappertsbusch, the pre-eminent conductor of Parsifal it Bayreuth. The spirit of a great occasion pervades the performance. After a driving Prelude, Act One surprisingly drags, as Knappertsbusch’s broad brush sets the scene. Helena Braun is not the ideal Isolde. In a two-dimensional sense she has power – and will get hysterical if she doesn’t get her way – but an inner resonance:, for example as she contemplates her trapped destiny (“Mir erkoren”), is wanting. Margarete Klose is beginning to age as Brangane (we have her on record from 1937), and her authority sometimes dominates at the expense of tenderness, which is made up for in any case in ample quantities by Knappertsbusch and the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra. She is superbly secretive and suggestive as she asks lsolde about her mother’s potions (“Kennst du der Mutter Krinste nicht?”). Braun is dry and detached in her reply. Paul SchOffler is a robust Kurwenal. Gunther Treptow’s restrained Tristan – he sounds as if he is singing askance as Isolde addresses him – is excellent. All restraint is swept aside as he swoons with yearning (“Traum der Ahnung”) and swoops on the cup, thinking he is about to die. He ends the Act – after more wonderful lusty and threatening choral singing from the sailors – deeply inspired.

The pace picks up in Act Two, as Braun sounds as if she can’t wait to get Tristan on stage. She chuckles with disbelief as Brangane warns her that Melot might be setting a trap (“vat Melot seid gewarnr). Klose is fretful contemplating what is about to happen, and is touchingly sweet as she recalls, childlike, that it was only once she betrayed her mistress when she switched the potions. l’reptow is more reserved than Braun in the Liebesnachi – love overflows in unequal portions – suggesting Tristan is but a minor noble. When they are suddenly undone, Knappertsbusch is heavy and ponderous as Melot and his cohort leap onto stage. Ferdinand Frantz is iron-like as King Marke confronting Tristan’s betrayal, and excellent and forthcoming as he expresses the King’s heartfelt shame (‘meiner Ehren Ende erreiche?”).

Act Three is Knappertsbusch’s and Treptow’s best. The interplay between the two makes for an inspired performance. Treptow manages to maintain control and sing his lines even at the heights of Tristan’s delirium, even when he gets carried away and sings twice that the flag on Isolde’s ship is waving (“die Flagge am Mast”). Knappertsbusch unleashes massive forces to drive him. Schöffier gives warm and intelligent support as Kurwenal. Whilst never white-hot, it is a great, monumental performance.

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Media Type/Label
Discocorp, MM
Laudis, Arkadia, Orfeo, Gala, Andromeda, Line, OOA
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Technical Specifications
388 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 649 MiB (flac)
Recording from the Münchner Opernfestspiele 1950