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Ghost Canyon

Title - 'Wagner: Tannhäuser' [3CD+Blu-ray Audio]
Artist - Georg Solti / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

For those not in the classical know, Tannhäuser (full title, Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg, "Tannhäuser and the Minnesingers' Contest at Wartburg") is an 1845 opera in three acts, music and text by Richard Wagner, based on two German legends; Tannhäuser, the legendary medieval German Minnesänger and poet, and the tale of the Wartburg Song Contest.

The story centers on the struggle between sacred and profane love, and redemption through love, a theme running through much of Wagner's mature work.

Wagner made a number of revisions of the opera throughout his life and was still unsatisfied with its format when he died. The most significant revision was made for the opera's premiere in Paris in 1861; the production there was however a failure, partly for political reasons.

The opera remains a staple of major opera house repertoire in the 21st century.

Releasing August 10th, 2018 via Decca Classics as a brand new Deluxe Hardback Edition with CD + libretti + Blu-ray Audio, who knew that Decca experimented with quadrophonic recording?

Indeed, no “quad” recording ever bore the traditional Decca FFSS trademark and Decca’s forays into quadrophonic recording have never-before been released – until now!

Getting the sound right at the recording session has always been a hallmark of the Decca Sound. While Decca’s Phase 4 label had been making multi-channel recordings since 1964, new ‘quadraphonic’ recording techniques developed in the late 1960s allowed engineers to capture a greater spatial ambience.

In the autumn of 1969, quietly and behind the scenes, Decca began to experiment with quadraphonic sound, first in its Hampstead studios, and the next spring in the Sofiensaal recording the Vienna Philharmonic, where the new miking techniques were employed to create a sense of movement in the different arrivals and departures of the Pilgrims.

Decca was to make the sound marketing decision not to issue any “quad” recordings – quadraphonic releases were a commercial failure due to the high production costs and the costs of the playback equipment, coupled with the technical limitations of cutting the extremely high frequencies into vinyl as well as tracking these without distortion.

Recording operas in the Decca style, and especially in stereo, presented. Today, Blu-ray Audio allows us to hear for the first-time producer Ray Minshull’s original vision and re-present in “Surround Sound” Decca’s accomplishments through the High Fidelity Pure Audio 5.1 surround mix in this reissue.

1. Tannhäuser, opera, WWV 70: Act 1. Scene 1. Zieh hin, Wahnbetörter, zieh hin! Geh!
2. Tannhäuser, opera, WWV 70: Act 1. Scene 2. Frau Holda kam aus dem Berg hervor
3. Tannhäuser, opera, WWV 70: Act 1. Scene 2. Zu dir wall ich, mein Jesus Christ
4. Tannhäuser, opera, WWV 70: Act 1. Scene 2. Wer ist der dort in brünstigem Gebete?

As I think we can all agree, Georg Solti’s readings of Wagner’s great operas are among the most thrilling experiences on record. The evenness and strength of the cast is balanced with the brilliance of the Wiener Philharmoniker and recorded with the renowned Decca clarity and richness.

Which is why after nearly fifty years, this remains the best recording of "Tannhäuser" - and for a number of reasons. Good recordings have never been thick on the ground and while this one originally was by no means perfect, it still pretty much kicked everything else into touch by virtue of the extraordinary vibrancy and erotic ambiance of Solti's direction.

In fact, I believe this to be his finest achievement in terms of pure conducting. I have listened to countless versions of the Overture and Bacchanale, for example, and none begins to rival his for febrile energy and propulsive drive; he is able to insinuate a kind of erotic frenzy and compulsive desperation in his sonic depiction of the orgies taking place in Venusberg.

The VPO is peerless, its rich, burnished glow ideal for conveying the sound-world of this opera. As for the aforementioned engineering effects - such as the gradual approach and retreat from left to right of the pilgrims' chorus - they are even more so now very effective; and the sound remains exemplary - especially on the Blu-ray Audio disc, of course!

A nod should also be aimed at the cast for they are as good as could be assembled in 1970. From Hans Sotin's noble Landgrave, to Victor Braun's affecting Wolfram, Helga Dernesch's sensitive, womanly Elisabeth, to Christa Ludwig's powerful, sensuously sung Venus, they all play and perform their parts admirably and with a great sense of devotion and passion.

Sure, René Kollo's rather guttural, at times ungainly tenor has always been open to criticism and constitutes the main weakness here. Especially when he aspirates, growls throatily to emphasize the aforementioned passion, and fails to produce a decent legato, but the voice is strong and steady, amply conveying the kind of manic, bi-polar obsessiveness which afflicts Tannhäuser when he is attempting to resist (or not) the lures of the flesh - and Wagner knew all about that!

The use of the boy sopranos of the Viennese Boys' Choir for the shepherd boy and young pilgrims was an inspired choice and the adult singers from the Vienna State Opera Chorus are also ideal.

In closing, I think we can all agree that this particular is a recording unlikely to ever to be surpassed (performance wise), but audio clarity wise, well, Decca Classics, stand up and take a bow as this incredible 5.1 Surround Sound Blu-ray Audio disc (mastered at 24-bit/96kHz from the never-before released 1970 experimental quadraphonic tapes) is as crystal clear and as mesmerizing a listen as I have ever come across in all my days of listening to this opera. It is, simply put, now even more magnificent to admire than ever before.

• 3CDs + High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray disc containing the complete opera in 24-bit audio Deluxe hard-back edition with original cover
• Includes libretto, and synopsis both with English, German and French translations
• Mastering from original analogue sources by former Decca engineer, Paschal Byrne.

Official 4CD Limited Edition Purchase Link