Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Mödl, Vinay, Malaniuk, Neidlinger, Greindl; Leitner. Den Haag, 1959

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Anyone who has followed the careers of Martha Mödl and Ramón Vinay knows that by the end of the 50s both were getting ready to shed their dramatic soprano and tenor (respectively) roles for less strenuous fare. Accordingly, I went into this performance with reservations. I was not ready for one of the most sincere, and poignant performances of Tristan und Isolde I have ever heard (and I have heard many.) There is no doubt that Martha Mödl was nowhere near the level she was at when she was singing at the first post-war seasons of Bayreuth. She has to grunt at many of the high notes and some barely come out. But Mödl was a dramatic soprano in the truest sense of the word and she does not let the fact that her voice is not cooperating keep her from attacking Isolde with reckless abandon. The result is much more than a performance of perfectly placed high notes that many of her colleagues may have delivered, it is a performance in which drastic leaps above the staff have a dramatic context and come from a raw and deep part within the psyche of the character. Her Liebestod is particularly beautifully sung complete with a pianissimo f sharp at the end, admirable more for the rapture conveyed, than vocal purity. In the end, this kind of commitment proves so much more compelling than a bravura display of vocal technique. Ramón Vinay's voice is in better shape than Mödl's although it does seem darker and heavier than it had in earlier years. Still, his burnished tone makes him an ideal Tristan. Ira Malaniuk is a sturdy Brangäne, although the quality of her voice can seem on the harsh side at times. Josef Greindl is a regal and very sympathetic Marke without coming across as wimpy. Ferdinand Leitner leads a sweeping and beautiful performance. The sound is excellent and there are some cuts made in the performance even in addition to the standard ones. One last thought: It is possible that Mödl and Vinay knew that this would be their last Tristan together and they just wanted to give one of the finest performances they could. They come very close…

OD 10868-3

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