Stokowski grew to be very old but never venerable. Capable of chasing secretaries around his desk at 94, what problems could Wagner pose? None–these recordings from London (1973-74) when the conductor was only 91 and 92 are vigorous, sweeping, immensely enjoyable performances. RCA has bounced this material around in several previous releases, and the sound was always spectacular.
After more than forty years this remains the best recording of "Tannhäuser" for a number of reasons. Good recordings have never been thick on the ground and while this one is by no means perfect, it pretty much kicks everything else into touch by virtue of the extraordinary vibrancy and erotic ambiance of Solti's direction - I believe this to be his finest achievement in terms of pure conducting.
2013 sees a series of Wagner reissues on Eloquence from complete operas and highlights to Wagner singer portraits and even an audiobook! This is a 31-year retrospective (1956 – 1987) of great Wagner singing on Decca and Deutsche Grammophon featuring fourteen extracts from nine operas with seven great singers.
So this is, on the whole, a fine performance. The only other commercial recording of Die Meistersinger to come along in the last couple of decades has been Sawallisch's (for my review see Fanfare 18:3). And that one, despite its many virtues, is seriously disfigured by Weikl's Sachs. So if you want a Meistersinger in up-to-the-minute digital sound, you would do better with Solti. I must add, however, that while the sound on this new recording is very full and clear, it lacks warmth.
Bruno Walter's recording of the Siegfried Idyll with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra is radiantly beautiful one of the most affecting of all this great conductor's statements. The horns wobble and nick a couple of notes, the ensemble isn't always perfect, and little things happen in the winds, but the sense of what the music is about the character of the solo playing, the phrasing, and the wonderful feeling of delicacy and joy is unmatched by anyone, except perhaps Karajan.
Few violinists can move between a modern instrument and a period one with such ease—not to mention with such an idiomatic approach to so many styles of music—as Isabelle Faust. Following her award-winning set of the Mozart violin concertos, the German is joined by the ever-stylish keyboard player Kristian Bezuidenhout for Bach’s sonatas for violin and harpsichord. Both instruments sound magnificent, and these two great players bring breathtaking invention and imagination to the six sonatas. The humanity and warmth of Bach’s music is extraordinary, especially when played with the passion and flair encountered here.
One is struck by the fact that the BPO, who must have been through all this music so often, can under a conductor who obviously inspires them, produce playing that is at once so polished and so fresh. One of the very finest Wagner orchestral collections in the catalog.