The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CLASSICAL -

Covent Gar­den’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion of The Ring, in­dif­fer­ently re­ceived first time out, re­turns at the end of the month. A bit like Manch­ester United un­der Mour­inho, the en­thu­si­asm is still there and tick­ets are chang­ing hands at high prices but, bar­ring a mir­a­cle, Wag­ner­ites are un­likely to be pro­vided with en­ter­tain­ment any­thing more than a pale shadow of the stan­dards of 50 years ago.

A glimpse of how things were in Wag­ner’s equiv­a­lent of the Matt Busby era comes from two su­perb live record­ings from Bayreuth: a Tris­tan And Isolde from 1958 and The Fly­ing Dutch­man from 1959, both con­ducted with ex­cep­tional verve and brio by the young Wolf­gang Sawal­lisch.

In Tris­tan, Bir­git Nils­son, born 100 years ago and ar­guably the great­est of all 20th-cen­tury Wag­ner so­pra­nos, is taken through the Liebestod in barely six min­utes. It’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing, with Nils­son dis­play­ing the thrilling vo­cal re­sources that meant she could still sound won­drously fresh after more than three hours on stage.

Her Tris­tan, Wolf­gang Windgassen, was sniffed at a bit in his own time. But what would we give to have a helden­tenor like him these days; a bit like the young Ge­orge Best sud­denly re­turn­ing to Old Traf­ford.

(Bayreuth 1958) Or­feo (3 CDs), out now

Josef Greindl is a splen­did foil as King Marke, and an even bet­ter Da­land in the three-act ver­sion of Dutch­man, which Bayreuth’s pre­sid­ing ge­nius, Wag­ner’s sadly short-lived grand­son, Wieland, put on the fol­low­ing year.

It’s the three-act ver­sion, not the sin­gle-act re­vi­sion Wag­ner ul­ti­mately pre­ferred (as do I), but this gothic Ham­mer hor­ror show is com­pelling lis­ten­ing from first bar to last.

Greindl’s Da­land is well

matched by Ge­orge London’s Dutch­man, while the young Leonie Rysanek, only 33 at the time, is a thrilling Senta.

Here the cho­rus, brought to the peak of per­fec­tion by Wil­helm Pitz, who also founded the Phil­har­mo­nia Cho­rus in London, sounds rivet­ing through­out.

These record­ings re­ally are live – no post-per­for­mance patch­ing. Stage noises in­trude con­stantly; the roar of the grease paint and the smell of the crowd is ev­ery­where ap­par­ent. But for me it just makes the whole expe- ri­ence even more ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

Decca has cleaned up one of Ge­org Solti’s finest Wag­ner record­ings from Vi­enna in 1970, and both the sound and the singing are glo­ri­ous, and well worth the price asked.

In Tannhäuser, Christa Lud­wig – 90 this year – is the finest Venus on disc, and the

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