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Classical Music on CD: Wagner Music from Tristan und Isolde, Tannhauser. Rienzi and Die Meistersinger The Philadelphia Orchestra / Leopold Stokowski Recorded 1926-1932 Pearl GEMM CD 9238

A godsend for music-lovers who adore Wagner's dramatic soundworld but can't stand opera. The main priority here is the very first recording of Leopold Stokowski's celebrated Tristan und Isolde "Symphonic Synthesis", a love potion in itself that takes the prelude, fragments from Act 1, the "Love Duet" and "Brangane's Warning" from Act 2, Tristan's cries of "Isolde" from Act 3 and the closing "Liebestod", substitutes solo instrumental lines for solo voices and moulds the whole into a mighty tone-poem. Not that anyone who is unfamiliar with the original need trouble about knowing what goes where: the end result is a seamless flow of musical eroticism and some of the most sensual orchestral playing on disc. True, the shellac- based sound is relatively constricted but, as vintage "wallows" go, this is definitely among the hottest.

The rest is virtually as distinctive: a suavely turned Rienzi overture, a lavishly textured Tannhauser overture and Venusberg music, and a tender account of the lovely Act 3 prelude from Die Meistersinger. Stokowski went on to prepare sonically superior re-makes (most notably of the Tristan and Tannhauser items), but his trail-blazing "early electricals" (ie discs recorded with a microphone rather than with an acoustic horn) deserve the widest possible currency. Robert Cowan