Wagner: Tristan und Isolde [4CD]

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John Mitchinson (Tristan), Linda Esther Gray (Isolde), Anne Wilkens (Brangaene), Gwynne Howell (Marke), Phillip Joll (Kurwenal), Nicholas Folwell (Melot), Welsh National Opera Orchestra & Chorus, Reginald Goodall

Decca's first digital studio recording of a Wagner opera, preserving the long-matured work of a legendary Wagnerian conductor. By the time this recording was made in the winter of 1980-81 over the course of two extended sets of sessions, the Welsh National Opera had given 18 performances of Tristan und Isolde with this cast, most of them under the watchful eye and inspirational baton of Sir Reginald Goodall. The conductor had undertaken many preparatory rehearsals with individual members of the orchestra - the harp, even the bass clarinet - in order to achieve a properly Wagnerian synthesis of music and text. The cast was English but exhaustively coached by Goodall in every nuance of the text. Particular praise, both of the recording and the associated performances, was reserved for the youthful and lustrous Isolde of Linda Esther Gray, in both her physical and vocal appearance. The recording was undertaken by Decca with appropriate sensitivity to the renowned spaciousness of the Goodall style, using long takes - up to 40 minutes at a time - to preserve the unhurried but ineluctable flow of the conductor's work at its finest. Goodall himself was pleased with the result: "I felt, there's a statement," he remarked to Opera magazine in October 1981 after he had heard and approved the finished tapes, "something finished; an experience". Goodall had been present at the EMI sessions in 1954 for the definitive 'Tristan' of an earlier generation, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler and Goodall's own achievement has been counted by many critics a worthy and comparable successor to that classic of the gramophone.