Looking back at Tristan und Isolde twenty years after its composition, Wagner told his wife Cosima: ‘My model was Romeo and Juliet – nothing but duets!’ He was invoking Bellini’s opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi, which he had conducted many times as a young man. Indeed, there had been much in the Italian master’s legacy that had impressed the young Wagner, including the ‘long, long, long melodies’ that Verdi described, and the technique of melodic sequence in which a phrase is repeated with rising pitch and heightened effect. The erotic potential of such procedures is famously exploited in the ‘night of love’ in Act II of Tristan und Isolde. And while this might well claim to be Wagner’s best-known duet, this innovative 2CD set, compiled by Australia’s Wagner expert Peter Bassett (who also contributes the notes) brings together a collection of dialogues, musical conversations and duets from the major Wagner operas.
The recordings are among the finest ever made. The singers are a Who’s Who of great names from the sixties, seventies and eighties – Fischer-Dieskau, Janowitz, Vickers, Thomas, Price, Kollo… with conductors like Karajan, Kleiber and Jochum directing these revelatory performances. The breadth and diversity of the emotion on this double album is matched by the generous playing times: more than two hours and forty minutes of music on a 2CD set.
“a performance with the blast of the winds and whiff of the sea” Gramophone Magazine (Fliegende Holländer)
“the chivalrous James King will impress you as being one of the purest, most unidiosyncratic Lohengrins you’ll have heard” Gramophone Magazine (Lohengrin)
“Fischer-Dieskau’s interpretation is as musical, as richly varied, as intelligent as one could hope for […] The great and unexpected revelation is Domingo’s Walther … he provides the most lyrically ardent Walther in any of the sets to date, seconding his conductor in his long-breathed, eloquent phrasing.” Gramophone Magazine (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg)
“Nilsson rises to great heights … is predictably glorious in her pleading for mercy to be shown to her lover and Windgassen is equally good in his defiance and contrition” Gramophone Magazine (Tannhäuser)
“Fischer-Dieskau and Veasey establish their characters with amazing clarity and speed” Gramophone Magazine (Rheingold)
“Vickers is a passionate Siegmund … his performance is superb … and as he is in splendid voice the heroic moments are most exciting.” Gramophone Magazine (Die Walküre)
“Kollo matches Price’s beauty of line with his own, so that for lyrical refinement their love duet is in a class of its own” Gramophone Magazine (Tristan und Isolde)
“Helge Dernesch is at her very peak” Penguin Guide ***