Wagner: Tannhäuser Overture; Siegfried-Idyll; Tristan und Isolde by Jessye Norman [Soprano]
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Karajan's appearance with Jessye Norman and the Vienna Philharmonic at the 1987 Salzburg Festival produced one of the great Wagner discs of all time, capped by a seething, compelling, white hot realization of the "Liebestod." Karajan knew he had something here, and listening to the performance is likely to leave you weak in the knees. As the account unfolds, everybody's on the edge of their seat--Norman comes in just that way, not sure of what volume to give it, halting, momentarily unsteady; then she cuts everything loose. Her singing is agitated and emotional, practically orgasmic if one must characterize it accurately. But Karajan has the last word, and it is a minute and 12 seconds of the most rapturous playing imaginable, a meditation on the opera's final word ("Lust") and the whole meaning of Tristan und Isolde
. This was the payoff for an entire career spent in pursuit of the refinement of orchestral sound. On the same CD, Karajan presides over perhaps the best Siegfried Idyll
on record, a lovely, spacious reading full of gentleness and radiance. The piece is exquisitely played by the VPO--very much as they did for Karajan in those final years, communing with him as much as performing the music for us. --Ted Libbey