Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Live recording in mono from
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
1956
Conductor: André Cluytens
Hans Sachs Hans Hotter
Veit Pogner Josef Greindl
Kunz Vogelgesang Josef Traxel
Konrad Nachtigall Egmont Koch
Sixtus Beckmesser Karl Schmitt-Walter
Fritz Kothner Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Balthasar Zorn Heinz-Günther Zimmermann
Ulrich Ei▀linger Erich Benke
Augustin Moser Josef Janko
Hermann Ortel Hans Habietinek
Hans Schwarz Alexander Fenyves
Hans Foltz Eugen Fuchs
Walther von Stolzing Wolfgang Windgassen
Eva Gré Brouwenstijn
Magdalene Georgine von Milinkovic
David Gerhard Stolze
Ein Nachtwächter Alfons Herwig
Chor und Orchester der
Bayreuther Festspiele
Music and Arts, CD-1011 4 CDs AAD
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Review by David McKee

Saying that Kothner nearly steals this "Meistersinger" implies that it is a poor performance. Far from it. However, when the Kothner is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who can't help but be his insightful, nuanced self, then you have a wonderfully polished and sung character portrayal that is the work not only of a mastersinger but a Master Singer. Such witty turns of phrase and such beautiful legato! The recital of the Tabalatur becomes an illuminating precis of all the vocal styles Wagner was trying to evoke and also gently parody, with FiDi singing the runs in enviably long breaths.

Were it not for the towering presence of Hans Hotter as Hans Sachs, there would be a serious imbalance in the Masters' Guild. As it is, with the exception of Josef Traxel's Vogelgesang, these masters are a pretty uncouth bunch who suggest--only too well--tradesmen having a flyer into singing. Josef Greindl's battery-acid tone makes his Pogner pretty well unendurable. Nor does Karl Schmitt-Walter offer a great deal in the way of cantabile, although his pencil point voice and Singspiel style work persuasively in Beckmesser's patter episodes, without slipping into the nattering excesses frequently visited upon the part. Thomas Hemsley (Calig) and Roland Herrmann (DG) continue to represent the standard in this part.

The anonymous Magdalene can be forgiven, while Gerhard Stolze's metal jacketed tone seems initially incongruous as David. Deployed with wit and discretion, however, it ultimately persuades. Similarly, while Gré Brouwenstijn lacks the ideal shimmer and steadiness of tone one craves in an Eva, hers is a substantive musical and dramatic presence. Kudos also to Alfons Herwig's well intoned Nightwatchman.

Wolfgang Windgassen--not entirely comfortable in Walther's tessitura-- manages to improve on the admittedly unimpressive norm for the role. His singing offers bright tone, dash and intelligence. This is one Walther who sounds both knightly and poetic: You really believe he's conjuring up songs out of thin air.

But the colossal performance is Hotter's, one that involves taking huge risks in phrasing and in challenging the higher reaches of Sachs' music, where Hotter's tone can obtain a yawny quality. The great Wagnerian's voice may wobble at times, but more often there is the tender vibrancy of an infinitely sensitive and wise observer of human frailty and folly. The monologues in Acts II and III are moments of profound (in both senses) introspection, while the public moments of the final scene are so movingly voiced as to stamp this particular Sachs indelibly in one's roster of great Wagner memories. An heroic achievement.

André Cluytens is very good with the small things, giving the principals both the space and support to shape their important moments in the way they need. Macrocosmically, this is generic "Meistersinger" conducting, moving forward broadly but without great distinction, and with some severe lapses of ensemble--particularly in the Act II riot.

M&A's source tape is not the best, being afflicted with moments of drop-out and cross-talk, as well as sporadic pitch-waver that makes Greindl and Schmitt-Walter even more trying than need be.

The Kubelik/Calig "Meistersinger" remains an unequivocal first choice. Hotter, Windgassen and Fischer-Dieskau, however, are strong inducements for "Meistersinger" devotees to investigate this set.