Sunday, 8 May 2016

Tristan & Isolde

Hans Knappertsbusch, Carl Schuricht, Bernard Haitink, Günter Wand, Adrian Boult, Jascha Horenstein, Pierre Monteux, Victor de Sabata, Eugen Jochum, Karl Böhm, Eugen Jochum, Eduard van Beinum ... there is a long list of highly admirable conductors who never managed to reach the "star" list, not because of lack of ability, but often because of lack of ambition, or lack of effective PR managers, or inability to gain three star recording contracts or media material posts with prestigious orchestras. Otto Klemperer nearly joined the list, but he was "rescued" by Walter Legge in the early 1950s and Legge, for all his chronicled faults, could recognise first-class musicians and do something for them, if he chose.

Carl Schuricht was one such "star, non-star". In its dying days, EMI issued a superb re-mastered SACD version of Schuricht conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in 1961 and 63 in Bruckner's eighth and ninth symphonies, and I have been listening again to this with much pleasure. I have an uneasy feeling that great performances of the music of Wagner and Bruckner died out during the later decades of the twentieth century, a feeling reinforced today listening to Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, recorded by EMI in 1952 and conducted in a London studio by Wilhelm Furtwängler. This is a well-known great classic of the recording eras, but how incredible it is! The stature of this recording is due almost entirely to Furtwängler, who melds the massive 4-5 hour opera into one seamless, impassioned whole. Timings are slow, forward progress relentless. The stature is enhanced by the 1952 mono recording, produced by Walter Legge with the incomparable Douglas Larter as balance engineer. I found the recording quality (digital transfer by Christopher Parker) to be quite amazing, given the 64 years that have elapsed since the original was set down. They don't make great classics like that any more when it comes to Wagner or Bruckner, it seems; the old dinosaurs died with their secrets intact.

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