Hagen Philharmonic Orchestra - Tristan and Isolde - Audiophile Audition


02 April 2008
Audiophile Audition
John Nemaric
5 Stars

Henk de Vlieger (b. 1953), a Dutch composer and professional timpanist, was commissioned in 1994 by Maestro Edo de Waart and the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra organization to write or synthesize this work from Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde. Essentially, this eminently symphonic piece consists of just one continuous movement lasting sixty minutes and also is one part of his so-called Wagner/de Vlieger tetralogy. 

A best-kept secret among reviewers is that Wagner is just far too long [and not commonly-held by concertgoers?...Ed.], and a shorter version of any of his operas would always be a welcomed and desired relief in the concert and recording circuit considering that most of them last between four and five hours; in our case T&I is just about four hours length. A great symphonic work like T&I should be open to contraction - there is a lot more to Wagner than meets the eye and the ear and many have argued that a large work (such as T&I) can and should be reduced in content to make it more accessible to concertgoers. Without loosing Wagner's grand concept de Vlieger, with this orchestra-only arrangement, has done just that - still fully conveying the opera's stoic nobility as originally intended. It is obvious that de Vlieger as a musician and arranger has an imposing grasp of Wagner's musical muse and T&I as well - he reconceived the latter as a purely aural concept free of visual distractions. This arrangement is pure musical drama for the naked ear whereby even the smallest of musical parts reflects the greatness of the whole; in the process he successfully achieves his goal with an autonomous drama of the orchestral kind - a Wagner without words!

This arrangement as conceived can exert from us the listeners a trance-like effect, irresistible and ineluctable both in a live performance (which I was privileged to attend some 2 years ago) and also here on disc, in either form the amplitude of the sound image captures our ears and minds. The emotional impact of Wagner's symphonic music is unmatched for its coherence as well as for the clarity and illuminating wonderment of a great love story; to that end de Vlieger's arrangement is constantly searching for mood and meter and finds it for our benefit with the aid of the gorgeous sound that Acousence has provided and a rather obscure German orchestra which is able to produce under the expert baton of Antony Hermus some glorious sounds belying their obvious professionalism and artistry. Little seems to have been lost but everything gained from an emotionally charged and intense live performance which shows at the very least the touted accuracy, clearness and extreme resolution of master recording at 24-bit/192K, even after bit-mapping down to the CD format.

There is no question in my mind that this is the best digital stereo CD I have heard in my life, one capable of conveying the smallest of aural nuances, the full breadth, depth and ambience of a live performance, all essential parts in the portrayal of a musical drama's atmosphere. To my mind a great music work inadequately recorded is tantamount to failure; I do care enormously about the artistic content of a recording, however, just as much or more I also care for its aural impact and concomitant emotional involvement. In this sense I am very much on the side of Leopold Stokowski's performance and recording philosophy: sound, good sound, is paramount. Fortunately, in this recording we have both artistry and sound.

When listening to this disc with my own reference system and also on a different one owned by a friend (Polk Audio SDA-SRS tower speakers - McIntosh solid state amp and pre-amp...a very powerful system indeed),  this particular recording convincingly demonstrated its potential for one live symphonic performance to give us undistorted, lifelike sound reproduction - completely revealing even the tiniest details of the music with wide dynamic and effortless playback and best of all, precise low frequency emissions out of the respective speakers. With either system a wonderful depth of field is heard from the original two channels while instrumental details and tone/timbre does stay cohesive much longer than on most CDs as the sound decays - the air and hair provided by original recording at 24/192 is extremely noticeable, for example in Track 4 at 4:16 with the beguiling sound of the cor anglais' long solo with its brilliant clarity and transient transparency. The resulting sound is superior to anything most CDs can throw at us.

We don't need to go very far into this disc to realize the high quality that can also be heard for example in Track 1 at 1:42 with just one single plucked note on the double basses, and/or the ability to capture subtle sounds as in also Track 1 at 9:25 with the barely heard roll of the timpani. Just as well in Track 3 at 8:50 the wonderful work of the oboes still delicately audible, clear and transparent when contrasted against the somewhat muted orchestra. If still in doubt go to Track 3 at 14:57 and listen to the notable intensity and urgency of the subdued full orchestra leading into a crescendo-diminuendo sequence, and in Track 7 beginning at 3:25 with the inspirational finale of the opera - an emotionally charged intense passage leading to the final overwhelming impact of the broad sound of the full orchestra.

Final words: A highly recommended disc - a must-have for all Wagner addicts!


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Related Links

Hagen Philharmonic Orchestra dir. Antony HermusHagen Philharmonic Orchestra dir. Antony Hermus
Wagner / de Vlieger: Tristan & IsoldeWagner / de Vlieger: Tristan & Isolde