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Classical Music Review

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Tristan Und Isolde


Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: Robert Reimer
Performed by: Juyeon Song, Roy Cornelius Smith, Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra and Ostrava Opera Men’s Chorus
Label: Navona Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 20 November 2020

The Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra bring us a new recording of Richard Wagner's three-act opera Tristan Und Isolde, conducted by German conductor Robert Reimer. As novel as the opera was in its time, it didn't go down well with all of the composer's contemporaries. Rossini quipped that while Tristan had great moments, it also had terrible quarter-hours. Worse yet, the author of Wagner's main inspiration, Arthur Schopenhauer, was even less impressed. To show his appreciation, Wagner had given Schopenhauer a copy of the libretto – and the philosopher liberally made annotations. At one point Wagner writes "The curtain falls quickly", on which Schopenhauer comments in ink: "For it is high time..."

It's almost unthinkable today that at the time of its 1865 debut, Richard Wagner's Tristan Und Isolde three-act opera wasn't as well received by the composer's contemporaries as it is by historians today.

While I admit it's not one of my favourite operas, it's still one I have enjoyed, through various recordings, over the years. However, listening to this recording by the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra I have rekindled a newfound admiration of the work. I was especially impressed by the mix of the recording, which when necessary sees the vocals delivered at the same level as the orchestra, whilst when it's important the singers are front and centre. This shows the dedication and love of the performance as an audio-visual art form. It would have been so much easier to just produce a mix where the vocals were the main focus, but with the love that has been poured on this recording it feels more like a stage play in its delivery.

Opera is a medium that people either love or hate, but I'd argue that Tristan Und Isolde is one that is truly capable of converting those who usually shy away from the genre.

On a side note it was interesting to hear, on Act 3's 'Noch ist kein Schiff zu sehn!' little snippets of music which could very well have been the inspiration for some of John Williams's music for 1977's Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. It's only a little segment here and there... but it's well documented that Williams was inspired by classical music and it was nice to stumble upon, potentially, one of those inspirations.

If you already own one of the other versions of this opera then you really need to add this to your library. The performances are passionate and feel like a labour of love, whilst the mix allows you to hear tiny elements of the orchestra that you may not have picked up on before.


Darren Rea

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