Tristan und Isolde

Jaap van Zweden
Groot Omroepkoor
Radio Filharmonisch Orkest
12 September 2015
Concertgebouw Amsterdam
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanIan Storey
IsoldeJennifer Wilson
BrangäneMarina Prudenskaja
KurwenalJochen Schmeckenbecher
König MarkeFalk Struckmann
MelotPaul McNamara
Ein junger SeemannFabio Trümpy
Ein HirtFabio Trümpy
SteuermannLars Terray

All the colours of the night: Tristan und Isolde at the Concertgebouw

This was the kind of performance I would rather not rate, its constituents ranging from the unforgettable to the unfortunate. No one performance of Tristan and Isolde can illuminate the work’s full complexity, but the best ones shine a light on certain facets and deepen our experience of them. Here conductor Jaap van Zweden revealed how seductively the score’s nocturnal colours spin the siren call of death. What he accomplished with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, who responded with agility and vibrancy, save for a couple of missteps inherent to live events, deserves five stars. So does Jennifer Wilson, incredibly fulfilling all the vocal demands of Isolde, from glowing middle voice to shining, pealing top As and Bs, plus the two high Cs in the love duet.

The Concertgebouw audience was palpably grateful to Ian Storey, who flew in at the eleventh hour to replace Clifton Forbis, silenced on doctor’s orders, without rehearsal. Sadly, despite his sensitivity in hushed moments, Mr Storey was not in good voice. Of modest volume, his tenor sounded capped at the top and was completely submerged by the orchestra at full force. By the middle of Act III, Tristan’s feverish cries were little more than yelps. Stepping in for an ailing Matthias Goerne, with the benefit of a longer notice, Falk Struckmann made a sonorous King Marke. Barring the very lowest notes, Mr Struckmann’s bass is in fantastic form. On discovering the adulterous lovers, he cranked up the onstage drama, concert format notwithstanding. His Marke was a furious parent disappointed by his adopted heir rather than a betrayed husband. He remained outraged to the end, when he belatedly arrives in Brittany to exculpate the lovers, despite his generosity of spirit. Jochen Schmeckenbecher also surpassed the theatrical expectations of a concert performance. As Tristan’s loyal retainer, Kurwenal, he was an engaging hothead on the ship to Cornwall in Act I, when his blustery baritone was not under complete control. It became more rounded during Tristan’s deathbed as his character became greatly affecting in his despair.

Cello-voiced Marina Prudenskaya gave a frustrating performace as Isolde’s confidante Brangäne. On the one hand, there were the rich depths of her mezzo-soprano, contrasting beautifully with Jennifer Wilson’s light-infused sound, her amplitude, and her even voice emission. On the other hand, her diction was nebulous at times and she sang mostly forte, attacking the Warning to the lovers full-on, rather than floating it gently. Earlier, while Isolde waits impatiently to meet Tristan in secret, Ms Prudenskaya’s subtler way with both volume and text displayed the Brangäne that she could be. The short roles of the Steersman and Tristan’s killer, Melot, were very ably filled by Lars Terray and Paul McNamara. Fabio Trümpy was exquisitely musical as both the Sailor and the Shepherd and the men of the Netherlands Radio Choir excellent as the roisterous crew.

Above all, there was Jennifer Wilson’s thrilling Isolde. Her steady technique enabled her timbre to stay bright and untarnished until the final scene. The warmth in her lower and middle voice and the youthful freshness at the top make her instrument ideal for this role. The Narration and Curse in Act I could perhaps have used more venom, but Ms Wilson is not a singer for those expecting shouty invectives and love-crazed ululations. She does good old acting-with-the-voice, expressing temperament through tonal beauty, and her Isolde borders on the miraculous.

Jaap van Zweden, finely attuned to the singers, provided the space for her refulgent voice to pour freely. Equally ravishing were the sounds he drew from the musicians, with pride of place for the caramel swirls of the oboes, clarinets and bassoons. Precise attacks, utmost finesse in dynamic transitions, and masterful crescendo build-ups, such as in the surging undercurrents of the prelude – it was all technically imposing. What rendered his interpretation memorable, however, was the way he played with the hues in the score, refracting them within the harmonic complexity, lightening and darkening them at will. How fragile was the gauzy tenderness of the love music, how alluring the onyx shine of the aggregrated strings as Tristan invites Isolde to follow him into the night.

Nowhere were the inky orchestral colours so tantalising as in the third act, giving Tristan’s longing for death, rather than the lovers’ erotic desire, thematic primacy. Tristan, who grows up parentless, knowing that his birth killed his mother, suffers from a psychic wound so deep, nothing in life can heal it. “For what fate was I born?”, he asks. For death, that is with him from the beginning. Even Isolde’s love cannot decant its healing power until death transfigures them both. And when death sounds like Mr Van Zweden’s Wagner, it is impossible to resist.

Jenny Camilleri | 14 September 2015

de Volkskrant

RFO en Van Zweden glorieerden in Tristan en Isolde

Het Radio Filharmonisch Orkest en dirigent Jaap van Zweden glorieerden in vele tinten in Tristan en Isolde. Ian Storey (Tristan) zong zijn partij – hoe dan ook een titanen-prestatie – zonder gerepeteerd te hebben.

‘Wat is de wereld zonder Isolde als Isolde het enige ter wereld is?’, zingt Tristan vertwijfeld in het laatste bedrijf van Wagners grote liefdesopera. De wonderlijke bewustzijnsvernauwing die verliefdheid is kan nauwelijks poëtischer en compacter worden verwoord. Was Wagner verder ook maar zo bondig. Tristan und Isolde duurt circa vier uur, en als daar, zoals bij de afgelopen ZaterdagMatinee, twee uitgestrekte pauzes bij komen, hebben we het al snel over een complete dagbesteding.

Bij sommige concertante opera-uitvoeringen willen de zangers wel eens wat extra leven in de brouwerij brengen door geacteerde elementen in te brengen. De toehoorders mochten ditmaal het beeld er helemaal zelf bij verzinnen. Jennifer Wilson (Isolde), Ian Storey (Tristan) en het merendeel van de anderen zongen strak voor zich uit, zonder enig oogcontact. Als excuus mocht gelden dat de oorspronkelijke Tristan, Clifton Forbis, onverhoeds van de dokter zijn keel moest sparen, zodat Storey zijn partij zong zonder gerepeteerd te hebben.

Het zingen van een Tristanpartij is hoe dan ook een titanenprestatie. Het kon niet verhelen dat de Britse tenor, ondanks zijn behaaglijk stemgeluid, een maatje kleiner is dan zijn Amerikaanse tegenspeelster. Wilson wierp zich vocaal en mentaal volledig in haar rol en heeft het vermogen om met behoud van een heldere toon boven het complete orkest uit te komen. In de zijlijn waren er mooie bijdragen van Falk Struckmann (Koning Marke), Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Kurwenal) en de jonge Russische sopraan Marina Prudenskaja (Brangäne), die, als ze iets prudenter omspringt met volume en vibrato, wellicht een mooie toekomst te wachten staat.

Het Radio Filharmonisch Orkest en dirigent Jaap van Zweden glorieerden in vele tinten en een rijk palet aan dynamische nuances, een logische voortzetting van de reeks concertante Wagners die dit team in de afgelopen jaren heeft neergezet.

Frits van der Waa | 14 september 2015

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Media Type/Label
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192 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 300 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast of a concert performance