Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Studio recording in stereo
September 23-27, 1995
Conductor: Georg Solti
Hans Sachs José van Dam
Veit Pogner René Pape
Kunz Vogelgesang Roberto Sacca
Konrad Nachtigall Gary Martin
Sixtus Beckmesser Alan Opie
Fritz Kothner Albert Dohmen
Balthasar Zorn John Horton Murray
Ulrich Ei▀linger Richard Byrne
Augustin Moser Stephen Tharp
Hermann Ortel Kevin Deas
Hans Schwarz Stephen Morscheck
Hans Foltz Kelly Anderson
Walther von Stolzing Ben Heppner
Eva Karita Mattila
Magdalene Iris Vermillon
David Herbert Lippert
Ein Nachtwächter Kelly Anderson
Chicago Symphony
Orchestra and Chorus
Decca, 452 606-2 4 CDs DDD
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Review by Marco Mazzocchi

Solti's farewell recording of a Wagner work is probably his best. His conducting has the usual strength and energy that we tend to associate with his name, but without the undue pomp and emphasis that characterized his former recording with the Wiener Philarmoniker. What's most important is that he is also capable of lyricism and tenderness in the most delicate moments of the score (notably Sachs' monologue in Act 2 and the following dialogue with Eva, the Quintet) where the accompaniment is warm and excellent. Solti has always declared the Meistersinger as one of his favorite operas, and it really shows in this recording.

As for the cast there could be nothing better nowadays as far as singing is concerned. Heppner is probably the best Walther on CD (thus surpassing the excellent Domingo with Jochum), and his Preislied shall be remembered for days to come. Karita Mattila is vibrant and intense as Eva, not the usual dumb dolly that most recordings would want us to believe. Lippert is an incredibly gifted David, and Vermillion and Opie sing with refinement the respective roles of Magdalene and Beckmesser. The latter is not sung-- as usually happens (see Evans with Karajan)--as a buffo from an Italian opera, but as a dusty and comic malgré lui character. After all he is a Meistersinger!

But the greatest compliments must go to José Van Dam, a great Wagnerian singer who manages to repeat the outstanding performance he had with Karajan as Amfortas. His singing may not be as robust as it used to be (it's a live recording, let us not forget) but what is lost in vocal strength is gained in subtlety and insight. He can show anyway a considerable strength and power in the final peroration of Act 3. But what touches me the most is the way Van Dam renders Hans Sachs' great humanity and profound sensibility, showing an understanding of the part not matched before.

The CSO plays with its usual virtuosity but also with a warmth and a tenderness that are quite unusual. What they create under Solti's baton is truly a masterpiece. We know from his memoirs that Solti had also intended to rerecord Tristan und Isolde next year, since he was disappointed with his previous recording. These being the results, we have to be all the more sorry about his untimely death.