Despite virtually insurmountable difficulties, Glen Cortese has proved himself a terrific conductor. In his two previous recordings for Titanic, Mahler's Symphonies No. 3 and No. 6, Cortese nearly overcome the not-quite-ready for primetime playing of the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra with performances that were passionate and interpretations that were broad, deep, and honest. Despite able but not adept playing, Cortese created convincing even compelling performances of Mahler's massive masterpieces.
In this live recording from February 2004 of Wagner's mighty Tristan und Isolde, Cortese has more than just-not-quite adept playing against him. He has more-than-not-quite in tune singing. The Bulgarian Festival Orchestra is just about able to play Wagner -- there are far too many passages where the orchestra is scrambling to keep up -- and it conspicuously lacks the polish and the depth of tone necessary to perform Wagner. But worse by far are the singers. Marc Deaton's Tristan is loud but often unsubtle and sometimes unstable. Susan Marie Pierson's Isolde is large but often wobbly and sometimes harsh. The rest of the cast is much less appealing, especially the seasick intonation of Petar Yanakov's Steurerman. It seems that Cortese's conception of the score is ardent, sweeping, and overwhelming but his musicians cannot do it enough justice to make it persuasive. Titanic's sound is real but a bit rough around the edges.