- 23 Mar 2016
Ludwig Suthaus & Kirsten Flagstad: “O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe” and “Einsam wachend in der Nacht” from the II Act of Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” (1865).
EMI Classics Studio Recording “Tristan und Isolde” – ℗ 1952
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by M.° Wilhelm Furtwängler.
“It’s not surprising that this sublime performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde has remained on the market for so long: Wilhelm Furtwängler’s reading of the tale with Ludwig Suthaus, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Kirsten Flagstad is probably definitive. The conductor is peerless at achieving a strong sense of direction throughout the epic length. Carlos Kleiber’s controversial version with the Dresden State Orchestra might boast orchestral fireworks (abetted by modern recording technology), but if you’re looking for a Tristan where the singing takes center stage, this is the right recording.” (Joshua Cody)
“The score of ‘Tristan und Isolde’ has often been cited as a landmark in the development of Western music. Wagner uses throughout Tristan a remarkable range of orchestral color, harmony and polyphony and does so with a freedom rarely found in his earlier operas. The very first chord in the piece, the Tristan chord, is of great significance in the move away from traditional tonal harmony as it resolves to another dissonant chord.
The opera is noted for its numerous expansions of harmonic practice. ‘Tristan und Isolde’ is also notable for its use of harmonic suspension—a device used by a composer to create musical tension by exposing the listener to a series of prolonged unfinished cadences, thereby inspiring a desire and expectation on the part of the listener for musical resolution. While suspension is a common compositional device (in use since before the Renaissance), Wagner was one of the first composers to employ harmonic suspension over the course of an entire work. The cadences first introduced in the Prelude are not resolved until the finale of Act 3, and, on a number of occasions throughout the opera, Wagner primes the audience for a musical climax with a series of chords building in tension—only to deliberately defer the anticipated resolution. One particular example of this technique occurs at the end of the love duet in Act 2 (‘Wie sie fassen, wie sie lassen’) where Tristan and Isolde gradually build up to a musical climax, only to have the expected resolution destroyed by the dissonant interruption of Kurwenal (“Rette Dich, Tristan!’). The deferred resolutions are frequently interpreted as symbolising both physical sexual release and spiritual release via suicide. The long-awaited completion of this cadence series arrives only in the final ‘Liebestod’ (‘Love-Death’), during which the musical resolution (at ‘In des Welt-Atems wehendem All’) coincides with the moment of Isolde’s death.”