If you saw David Robertson’s masterful concert version of Tristan und Isolde with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra earlier in the year you would be familiar with the compelling singing of US soprano Christine Brewer in the title role. Here she is 13 years earlier in an equally powerful performance recorded live at London’s Barbican Centre under the masterful baton of Scottish conductor Donald Runnicles.
Celebrated English tenor John Treleaven is a superbly convincing Tristan and there is a great chemistry between the pair. His is a many-layered performance as our hero runs the gamut of emotions over four exhausting hours. This stellar partnership is complemented by Czech mezzo Dagmar Pecková – a star in her own right and with an asteroid named after her to prove it – as Brangane and British bass Pete Rose gives King Mark’s big aria, Tatest du’s wirklich, a finely expressive reading with his nuanced timbre. Jared Holt makes a fine Melot as well. Israeli baritone Boaz Daniel impressed as Tristan’s faithful servant Kurwenal in Sydney and he does the same on this disc.
Runnicles and the BBC Symphony are in fine form – the crescendos will clear the wax out of your ears. The build-up while the wounded Tristan is awaiting Isolde’s ship is breathtaking. The box set is well produced and, with its pre-Raphaelite packaging and generous liner notes and libretto, is an attractive alternative to the more expensive but basic 3CD Glyndebourne 2009 set under Vladimir Jurowski, which came out last year.
If there is a criticism of the Runnicles Tristan it is the decision to run it over four discs so that both the first and second acts have an unnatural break. That aside, be prepared to be swept away by the superbly maintained erotic tension, which is finally resolved in blissful death four hours later.