Three and a half stars! There is quite a lot that is very good in this recording-the sound in the remastering is very fine indeed, better than the Kubelik which has some exposed thin patches in its latest mastering, and nearly as rich and fulsome as the Karajan. Jochum gives us a straight, unfussy reading which if it never reaches the sublime heights, does not contain any agogic or annoying interpretational quirks, and is always very apposite of tempo and moving in the right places. There is some luxury casting-Ludwig and Laubenthal as the secondary lovers are superb, as is Roland Hermann's strongly characterised though not caricatured Beckmesser. There are two very serious mis-castings, however. The Pogner-a significant role, is woolly, unfocussed and simply dreadful-when compared to the likes of Moll, Ridderbusch and Pape it is made even worse. Ligendza is no Eva, especially at this stage of her career when the effects of repeated Brunnhildes and Isoldes had both hardened her tone, and given her an unsteady upper register unless belting out Hojo-Toho. She uses her strong technique to do her best, but is neither alluring as a characterisation or vocally. Domingo's Walther, sung in some indeterminate language as ever, is powerful, steady firm-and Italianate.If you are happy with this style, then you will be well pleased with this performance, and there is a lot to be said for it.
Then we come to Sachs-there is a great body of opinion that states that DFD should have stuck to Lieder singing, a view I do not share. DFD refused to sing this role until he had reached his 50th birthday, stating that he needed the maturity. The result is a typical DFD performance-beautiful mellifluous long lines interspersed with barking-and of course, those pernickety final consonants.
He is, thankfully, a good natured, good humoured Sachs, not a misery like Van Dam, rather hectoring like Stewart, and certainly not anonymous like Adam for Karajan. Overall, I like his performance and count it one of the plusses.
In sum, we have a well rounded performance, rich in tone and with many fine elements-interspersed with some really grating ones! It is certainly worth its bargain price. A best recommendation? Very difficult, hence the title of my review-they are all flawed. I'm not as big a fan of the Kubelik as many, as I don't like many of his tempi, Konya's glottal singing grates on me, the chorus is thin on the ground and the recording is patchy-plus the price! The Karajan is superb in so many respects-but the Sachs is dull (though reliable) and Evans's mumming Beckmesser is a bad misjudgement-the Solti Vienna recording has a harsher Kollo, a wobbly Eva in Bode-and the remastering is poor with thin sound.His Chicago recording is a major disappointment, with several unsatisfactory performances, some ridiculous tempi though superbly recorded sound. I am of course referring to the stereo era, and the first stereo version live from Munich in 1963 and conducted by Keilberth is available again for a pittance-remarkable sound, and very well sung except for a really strange Sachs from Weiner-more spoken than sung! I am minded to suggest the EMI Sawallisch as a good choice at a bargain price. He conducts reliably, and although Weikl is vocally stretched alarmingly near and above the stave, he gives a jolly , good natured, experienced stagey performance-and the rest of the cast is superb!
There is no argument that the Kubelik is the best sung overall-but there are other considerations, and for reasons already expressed , this set or the Sawallisch make excellent bargain choices. 3.5 stars.
Through the 60's and early 70's the dearth of new recordings of Die Meistersinger was often put down to "waiting for Fischer-Dieskau". Admittedly there had been two great recordings in the early days of LP - Knappertsbusch and especially Kempe. Karajan came along and didn't add a lot except modern stereo sound. There was the odd pirated version of Karajan's Bayreuth performance with Schwarzkopf as Eva - the most insufferably prim and arch Eva ever! But it seemed that the great man was reluctant to take on the part everyone thought he had been borne to play.
Finally, though, it happened. And it seemed he was right. His performance of Sachs was, in the event, something of a disappointment. There's some beautiful singing certainly (the Fliedermonolog for example), but at other times there is a tendency to bark. As one would expect from DFD, the text is pointed, lifted, emphasised, clarified - too much so a lot of the time, for it is at the expense of the lyrical musical line. But the real disappointment is that time after time he misses those emotional KO punches that litter the score. The ironies of his Act 2 scene with Eva and the sudden blossoming when he reminds her just how lovely she is: the moment when he remembers his wife and children (whatever did happen to them?): the slightly grudging respect for the composition of a true meisterlied ("Now that's what I call an abgesang"): the burst of anger he can't control that leads to Eva's overwhelming outburst, "O Sachs, mein Freund": the controlled resignation as he names Walther's preislied: the humbled pride as the Midsummer crowd sings his own glorious hymn to the Reformation back to him ("Euch macht ihr's leicht"). All these seem to slip past without a hint of a tear rising, at least to my eyes.
Domingo, on the other hand, was the great surprise of the set on the positive side. This was his first essay in Wagner singing on disc and it was a revelation. Yes, his German accent was even dodgier in those days than it has subsequently become. But the pouring forth of the sort of bel canto line that Wagner always said he wanted but has so seldom received was and is a revelation. In this of all Wagner's tenor parts, with Trial Song, two versions of the Prize Song and countless other soaring lyrical lines, the benefits of Domingo's Italianate sound are legion. And his voice was absolutely at its prime; ringing at the top, tender and smooth as silk at mf or quieter, and with that baritonal touch that distinguishes the best of heldentenors.
Ligendza was a stalwart at Bayreuth through the early 70's - perhaps a bit overparted as Brunnhilde, but a very fine Isolde with Carlos Kleiber (occasionally available as an alternative to his DGG set with Margaret Price). Eva suits her even better. She is sensitive to all the swift changes of mood, the petulance and the passions of a teenager and rises to true heights in "O Sachs, mein Freund". There have been smoother lead-ins to the Quintet, but that's a small blemish on a substantial reading of the part.
As for Jochum's conducting, perhaps he was brought down a bit by his protagonist, because he can be better than this. He seems a little kapellmeisterish here - sound, worthy, but never rising to the heights of a Kempe or, especially, a Kubelik.
Disappointing on the Fischer-Dieskau front, then, exciting for Domingo's Walther, interesting for Ligendza's Eva, but not a first choice for this most human of Wagner operas.
on 6 December 2014
"Jochum's is a performance which, more than any, captures the light and shade of Wagner's most warmly approachable score, its humour and tenderness as well as its strength. […] Above all, Jochum is unerring in building long Wagnerian climaxes and resolving them."
(Penguin Guide to Compact Discs, Cassettes and LPs)