Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Nilsson, Windgassen, Rössl-Majden, Neidlinger, Hotter; Karajan. Milano, 1959
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This recording of Tristan und Isolde captures Birgit Nilsson just before she had asserted her world-wide domination of Richard Wagner. There have been many sopranos who may have had voices as large, but what separated Nilsson from the rest was the effortless quality she brought to some of the most formidable vocal demands as well as her ability to convey the many delicate moments which often get lost. Wolfgang Windgassen lends his virile tenor to the role of Tristan. Although it is a matter of debate whether or not Windgassen was a true Heldentenor, what cannot be disputed is the intelligence he brings to this part, deftly pacing his way through the piece without ever sounding “careful.” Hans Hotter assumes the role of Marke after having sung Kurwenal with Karajan at Bayreuth seven years prior. The orchestra, under the masterful baton of Herbert von Karajan, delivers some of the most memorable playing (the odd missed note notwithstanding) I have ever heard. If technically the La Scala orchestra is not at the same level of some of the other orchestras of the world, they make up for it with some supremely romantic playing particularly from the strings who are unabashed in their usage of portamentos. Also, the crescendos that Karajan is able to extract from the ensemble go beyond simply going from loud to louder; they seem to come from the innermost depths of the players’ souls and make for some very powerful moments. The sound is very good.