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--Standard Repertory--

By Richard Wagner

(A work this rich can never be encompassed by one interpretation, however strong; it's well worthwhile to have two or three permanently on hand, if possible)

VIDEO: Mari Anne Haggander, Siegfried Jerusalem, Bernd Weikl, Hermann Prey, Horst Stein conducting--Bayreuth Festival, 1984. PGD 070 513

AUDIO: A) DECCA/LONDON: Paul Schoeffler, Hilde Gueden, Guenther Treptow, Karl Doench, Knappertsbusch conducting (1951); the most authentic, most direct account, with a more natural flow, thanks to "Kna"'s love for the conversational, than any of its competitors; although this recording may be less immacculately sung across the board than C, Schoeffler's overwhelmingly sympathetic, probing Sachs dominates this set the way Sachs should, while Gueden's vivid Eva is set off against Treptow's admittedly spotty Walther; fairly good mono sound, although the thin string sound could turn off some listeners [G.R.]

B) CALIG: Thomas Stewart, Gundula Janowitz, Sandor Konya, Thomas Hemsley, Kubelik conducting (1967); this is as expansively sung an account as any extant recording, and this one may feature the most flamboyant--however eccentric--ensemble playing of all, thanks to Kubelik; although Stewart's committed, deeply vulnerable Sachs haunts the listener with its sympathetic vocal colors, his reckless projection of angst is at the cost of some very occasional vocal pressure and unsteadiness that can prove wearing on repeated hearings; Hemsley's unflappable Beckmesser may not wear well for some either; stereo [G.R.]

C) DECCA/LONDON (1995): Brand new release in digital stereo with Jose Van Dam, Karita Mattila, Ben Heppner, Alan Opie, Solti conducting (Sept. 1995); Solti, in comparatively mellow form, presides over this conscientiously translucent, polished--though impersonal--account, signaling the coming to age of a superb new Wagnerian generation participating in easily the most musically sung version available anywhere, though not the most imaginative; in digital stereo [G.R.]

Two-way tie for the D rating (given in chronological order):

D-1) EMI: Otto Edelmann, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Hans Hopf, Erich Kunz, von Karajan conducting; "live" at Bayreuth, 1951; von Karajan at his best with a well-rehearsed ensemble in a lively and keenly focused production--fine stage-directing is easily conjured up through the mind's ear and this "live" document captures the humor of the work better than any other; Edelmann, possibly, the most sturdy and powerfully voiced Hans Sachs available in high fidelity; Hopf's Walther is disappointing, while Schwarzkopf's Eva is among the absolute best; mono [G.R.]

D-2) EMI: Ferdinand Frantz, Elisabeth Grümmer, Rudolf Schock, Benno Kusche, Kempe conducting(1956); Kempe's genial interpretation is the warmest of all and fully as authentic as Kna's on A--and somewhat better-rehearsed, with an even more consistent level in the supporting cast and more meticulous orchestral and choral preparation; Schock's Walther, though, is even more spotty than Treptow's on A, while the vocally fatigued, though musical, Frantz (as Sachs) can sometimes be deeply satisfying--and sometimes not; mono [G.R.]

E) MUSIC & ARTS: Friedrich Schorr, Elisabeth Rethberg, Rene Maison, Edouard Habich, Bodanzky conducting; "live," broadcast (Feb. 1936); a rarity, altogether unsurpassed singing, Schorr's Sachs easily beating out even the fine Schoeffler on A above; would be rated much higher if not for the many Bodanzky cuts and the cloudy radio sound; mono [G.R.]

F) MYTO: Hans Hotter, Annelies Kupper, Gunther Treptow, Benno Kusche, Jochum conducting (1949); there are just so many things going for this one that it's a shame its one flaw should be so excruciating; in perfectly fine sound, it boasts Hotter's musical and infinitely perceptive Sachs at its vocal zenith (although even here there is apparent vocal fatigue and unsteadiness towards the close), Treptow's Walther during its all-too-brief prime (and less muscle-bound than in Kna's A), Kushe's deft Beckmesser and Jochum's winged leadership through the most effervescent score that the operatic world has yet known; unfortunately, Kupper's Eva is a perfect anthology of all the vocal handicaps best known (and feared) by long-suffering Wagner afficionados afflicted by the aural scars of hand-me-down third raters through the last decades; short breath, nonexistent pitch, 3-mile-wide wobble (this trenchant phrase is not mine, alas, nor do I recall where I first saw it, but, after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery), sepulchrally matriarchal tone -- you name it, Kupper's got it; she is frankly unlistenable; for those able to withstand the trials and tribulations of her dreary stretches of non-singing singing, my hat's off to them: they will be better able to savor the finer aspects of a Meistersinger performance scrupulously rehearsed by Jochum at his finest, orchestral and choral preparation astonishing, individual characterization and interaction worked out to a fare-thee-well; this performance is a triumph of fine ensemble work -- a pity; mono. [G.R.]

For Further Reading:

Richard Wagner : Die Meistersinger Von Nuernberg, by John Warrack

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