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Customer Review

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult Set to Assess-3.5 Stars overall. That which is good is Great, that which is bad is very bad!, 16 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: Wagner: Meistersinger (Audio CD)
Let me commence by pointing out that this set differs in musical content from the previously released DVD/Blu-ray version in that it is compiled from all the performances and dress rehearsals etc. as opposed to the one-off performance that was filmed.

In this anniversary year, even late in the day the flood of fascinating releases continues.
Even the post 2000 enlarged house at Glyndebourne makes performing Wagner there a daunting and unlikely task, perhaps none more so than Die Meistersinger with its cast of over 160 and huge orchestra, and which Wagner disingenuously described as his " little comedy. "That it was achieved with masterly results is evidenced by the filmed version and to some extent by this purely audio version, though I will state immediately that this is a "niche" recording and will not suit everyone's taste.

The recorded sound is beautiful, with technology compensating for the reduced forces involved to a large extent, but the smaller orchestra results in greater transparency than is usual, and the same applies to the attenuated chorus. The smaller stage brings the chorus much more to the fore, and their added presence brings real dividends in the opening chorale and in the final scene, though their laughter and jollity does overwhelm the orchestra at times.
On the whole though, the recording is superb-it does get confused in the Act 2 "Eve in Paradise" soliloquy where the asides by Eva and Beckmesser are too inaudible to be clearly heard, and have the effect of sounding rather like audience heckling, but this is a minor cavil.

The LPO plays with luminous beauty, authority and technical excellence. The ears soon adjust and the lesser weight of sound is accommodated easily, and the conductor Vladimir Jurowski does not put a foot wrong. Every tempo is absolutely apposite, the balancing is perfect, and he elicits playing of world class from his superb band. No other version is better conducted and played!

There is no recorded version that is universally well cast-even the much fancied Kubelik has a Walther who sings with a sob in every line and a rather under characterised Beckmesser-infinitely preferable though to the gross caricature of Geraint Evans for Karajan.
Only the 1968 Bayreuth Recording Bohm comes near to the perfection we all seek in vain, and this current set has its major deficiencies also.
There are many performances in this reduced scale performance that could happen ONLY in this type of production-and are not likely to happen again either!

Gerald Finley is familiar to us primarily in Mozart, Rossini and Britten and in Lieder, and he is no Bass. The argument for a younger, more virile sounding Sachs is a strong one-he is supposed to be in his late 30s- but one must remember that men aged more rapidly in that era, and one can add 15-20 years to a man of 35 of 1870 and it will be an accurate representation of how he would have looked and sounded! The late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau refused to tackle the part until he had reached Age 50.
The point I'm getting at is that I personally miss a richer voiced more mature sounding Sachs, full of wisdom, humour and compassion, and while Gerald Finley IS superb, I find a slight lack of gravitas in the "Wahn" and "Flieder" Monologues.
This is purely personal taste, and Finley's secure singing is a joy and he certainly conveys the bonhomie of Sachs perfectly. It is a performance that works wonderfully well in this context. I cannot recall a better sung Company of Masters on ANY recording, and their interjections are wonderfully clear. Alistair Miles is a warm voiced and secure Pogner, the Night watchman is a Hunding and Hagen in the making (with an offstage Steer Horn no less!), the David is good and the Lena adequate-she does wobble from time to time.
The Eva of Ana Gabler is very attractive, mostly secure of tone bar an occasional tremor and very well acted if not in the same class as Janowitz, Donath and surprisingly a radiant Gwyneth Jones for Bohm.

The absolute Gold of this set is the Beckmesser of Johannes Martin Kränzle. He sings wonderfully portraying the character as a puffed up buffoon-this is after all Wagner's caricature of his Arch-Nemesis Eduard Hanslick, doyen of Viennese Critics-not a pantomime villain.
He is genuinely hilarious even in pure audio, and his rendition of his own composed entry and his purloined version of "Morgenlicht Leuchtend ..." are the highlights of the set.
The set is worth it for his performance alone.

The problem lies with the Walther of Marco Jentsch. His light, reedy tenor would hardly pass muster in G&S-he frequently sings flat and sharp by turns, struggles to reach the highest register and cannot sustain notes without developing a tremor.
He makes Klaus Florian Vogt sound like Melchior.
He is to be fair very involved in the role, and makes a convincing job of the acting, but I don't want to hear his"Am Stillen Herd..", "Fanget An!" or Prize Song again-ever!

In the context of such an engaging performance his performance is just about tolerable, but one wants more than that from a Walther! I don't think he'll be cast in this role again anytime soon.
(Actually, these days I'm probably wrong!)

The set is beautifully presented as a Hard Back Album, with lavish colour artwork and pictures, background notes, synopsis and full libretto in German and English, plus head shots of all the largely British cast and each CD wrapped in a plastic bag which protects it in the album slot. The price is very reasonable, and there is enough in this set to warrant a strong but qualified recommendation as a niche performance.
The usual cuts apply in Act One, but Sachs' closing monologue, often a victim, is left intact.
5 Stars for Recording, Playing, Chorus and Conducting. 5 Stars for Sachs, Pogner and the Mastersingers save Beckmesser, 4 Stars for the remaining cast save Walther.
10 Stars for Beckmesser, 1 Star for Walther. How do I sum up?-3.5 Stars overall.
Kubelik, Bohm, Karajan, Keilberth and even Sawallisch make good alternatives, but obsessive Wagnerians will want this in their collection. I will certainly return to it for Act 2 (my favourite) and Beckmesser in the Prize Song! Stewart Crowe
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Nov 2013 00:13:12 GMT
Ralph Moore says:
I saw this performed live at Glyndebourne and my affection for it is swayed by the fact that it was also a beautiful production, with excellent sets and first class movement in the crowd scenes - but that does not in any way invalidate your criticisms as you quite rightly pick up on its weaknesses. Jentsch was less worrying on stage than he must sound on disc but I was always aware that he was not really adequate. The joys were indeed Finley's sensitively acted and superbly sung Sachs - such a refreshing take on the character, presenting him as a still-attractive widower who could potentially make a good husband for Eva, not a genial, bearded old buffer - Kränzle's intelligent, hilarious, elegantly sung Beckmesser and the Masters.

So this is a very fair and accurate review, judging it purely in aural terms.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Nov 2013 11:22:18 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Many thanks Ralph. I was aware that you had seen it and rated it very highly-rightly so-and I have long argued that there are countless performances which are effective and satisfying in the theatre, but do not stand up when heard devoid of the special atmosphere of being at the event itself. More than one reviewer recently has made the mistake of reviewing a performance they attended rather than the recording than emanated from it. I was a touch nervous of offending your sensibilities, but when you hear the recording will I am sure agree. I'm a great believer in a performance being the sum of its parts, and in context of the overall work, this Walther just about gets away with it. It's such a heart warming performance overall, I am inclined to forgive, but advising others is tricky as we know!

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Sep 2014 03:08:08 BDT
Mr. Crowe -

I share your reservations about Jentzsch - his vocalism is a real blot on the set. I have the Blu-ray version, and given the excellence of the production, I think that's the best way to experience this superb performance,

Posted on 14 Oct 2014 07:25:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Oct 2014 08:24:49 BDT
Ian N. says:
I should make it clear that I have not heard this audio CD version, and I take the point that it differs from the DVD film: please see my own review of the latter. Nevertheless I remain rather mystified by the somewhat harsh (to my mind) criticism of Marco Jentzsch. I am a music lover, but not a music technician and it may well be that I miss the odd stray sharp or flat (and you wouldn't want to hear my own singing!). The essential point I want to make is that any minor imperfections do not bother me in the context of the overall performance of what is after all a long and complex work, and they may well not bother other potential purchasers either. So my advice would be to sample first if you can, and then decide.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Oct 2014 09:51:41 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Oct 2014 09:54:46 BDT
Ralph Moore says:
That's a fair observation, Ian, and it is true that by modern standards Jentsch is par for the course; our problem is that our ears ring with the performances of Melchior, Heppner, Remedios, Konya, even Kollo and Kmentt so disappointment is inevitable. Even as long ago as 1974 in Bayreuth, I find that Jean Cox's spoils the otherwise fine Varviso performance. I don't generally watch opera on DVD myself, in any case, but I think it must be true that the DVD still forms a rewarding experience for those who do.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Oct 2014 10:39:17 BDT
Ian N. says:
Thanks Ralph. As a 77 year "oldie" my ears also ring with those you mention (although Melchior, for example, was quite exceptional - we may not quickly hear his like again); but yet I don't find Jentzsch (inevitably or otherwise) disappointing - simply different, and in fact rather refreshingly so. But there we are, we too are all different, and thank heaven we are: it would be a dull old world otherwise!

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Oct 2014 12:49:26 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
Gentlemen-thanks for the fascinating observations. I hope that I conveyed in my review that there was much to enjoy in the sound recording under review. Although I don't own the DVD, I know a man who does and I have seen it. It is of course not the same animal, being a genuine one-off performance on the film. I have to say that vocally Jentsch is actually worse than on the cd recording, hardly surprising since they were able to edit in his finer moments from several performances for cd, but this highlights an interesting phenomenon-in a sense the ears are deceived by what the eyes are seeing! As the production is visually so convivial, the effect on the impression of all the vocal performances is a positive one, just as Ralph was enthused by the live performance. Now Ralph is THE most unforgiving of critics of vocal infelicities, and for Ralph to be so generous in his comment is a reinforcing of this point. As one who is far more resigned to sub standard Wagner singing in the modern era, I have to emphasise that as a purely audio experience his singing is AWFUL-embarrassingly so-and from me that is condemnation indeed! I have to disagree cordially with Ian-it certainly IS different but not in any sense of a good way.
However, I am glad that you enjoy it Ian and overall it is certainly a fine achievement.
It is a sign of the times that as I am due to attend the ENO Mastersingers in Feb 2015, it is with as much trepidation as anticipation! Very Best Regards to Both, As ever, Stewart.

Posted on 18 Sep 2015 21:45:26 BDT
Penperlleni says:
When this Meistersinger was first staged I bought some standing tickets as usual to see if it merited buying a full price ticket. I rarely find a review which exactly mirrors my own reaction but this does. No way was I going to spend serious money to hear this Walther even though I loved the production. But good news!! next year Glyndebourne have booked Michael Schade. And I have real hopes that maestro Ticciati may come close to matching my ideal Meistersinger performance, Karajan 1951 live from Bayreuth. It amuses me that most commentators dislike Hans Hopf but he has always been one of my favourite Wagner tenors - maybe it is my perverse streak. But even my perverse streak cannot cope with Jentsch. Sadly it seems the star Beckmesser may not be back next year. Shame. John Christie sang Beckmesser and built Glyndebourne to stage Wagner. He would have thought this Beckmesser justified all his trouble.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2015 06:29:51 BDT
Ian N. says:
I certainly agree with you about the 1951 Karajan Bayreuth performance: this was the recording that introduced me to Meistersinger, and it remains a favourite. It is of course often the case, at least for me, that a recording by which we first heard a work remains a benchmark by which (for better or worse) we judge all others; and the 1951 Karajan has a very special quality and atmosphere - no doubt due in part to the significance of the occasion (the new post-war Bayreuth) at the time.
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