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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
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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