Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Live recording in stereo from
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Conductor: Silvio Varviso
Hans Sachs Karl Ridderbusch
Veit Pogner Hans Sotin
Kunz Vogelgesang Heribert Steinbach
Konrad Nachtigall József Dene
Sixtus Beckmesser Klaus Hirte
Fritz Kothner Gerd Nienstedt
Balthasar Zorn Robert Licha
Ulrich Eißlinger Wolfgang Appel
Augustin Moser Norbert Orth
Hermann Ortel Heinz Feldhoff
Hans Schwarz Hartmut Bauer
Hans Foltz Nikolaus Hillebrand
Walther von Stolzing Jean Cox
Eva Hannelore Bode
Magdalene Anna Reynolds
David Frieder Stricker
Ein Nachtwächter Bernd Weikl
Chor und Orchester der
Bayreuther Festspiele
Philips, 434 611-2 4 CDs ADD
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Review by Marco Mazzocchi

I found this set for an embarrassingly cheap price in a second-hand shop, looked at it and was faced with a plethora of mostly unknown names. But the cheap price together with the name of Karl Ridderbusch led me to one of the best CD purchases I ever made.

The Swiss conductor Silvio Varviso was a revelation to me. The only mention I had ever heard of him was by a Straussian friend who once remarked to me that his recording of excerpts of Der Rosenkavalier would have made up for the best Rosenkavalier ever, hadn't Decca limited itself just to the excerpts. Varviso's approach is a no-fear one. He's completely in command, always in control, he can do whatever he wants with his ensemble of players and makes his orchestra sing as rarely before in this opera. His orchestra sings, swings, tells us a story, can be both symphonic and elegiac, narrates an incredibly lively conversation piece with a pace and a flow that are extremely refreshing. Powerful strings combined with clear woodwinds punctuate Varviso exhilarating ride through the score. Lightness without weakness, power without noise, articulation without fragmentation. The Bayreuth forces seem galvanized under such conductor and gorgeously play throughout: they are majestic when majesty is called for, they caress when conversation or elegy are brought to the fore, they mock and tease in the most playful moments. And the cast is worthy of such conductor.

Karl Ridderbusch certainly needs no presentation here. His voice is one of the best instruments to ever have worn Sachs' clothes, and as always with Ridderbusch the actor/interpreter is equal to the singer. Listen to the tone shading he finds for his "mit all' meiner armen Poeterei", or the sad resignation with which he pronounces the "Mein Kind, für den ist alles verloren, und Meister wird er in keinem Land" and you'll see the greatness of his Sachs.

Jean Cox has a very beautiful voice, I've heard better and more powerful Walthers but he's rightly impetuous, and young. Pogner is gorgeously and convincingly sung by a young Hans Sotin, a most moving "das schöne Fest". Hannelore Bode as Eva has a somewhat light voice but for once spares us the maternal flavor that seems to affect many an Eva. Magdalene is sung by Anna Reynolds and her darkly hued voice makes for a nice contrast with the younger Eva. David is a role that never poses great casting problems and is here impeccably sung by Frieder Stricker.

Beckmesser is Klaus Hirte who spares us of the frightful caricature excesses found in many most renowned editions of the work. As I keep saying, Beckmesser is a Meistersinger and has furthermore been chosen by the Meistersinger assembly as their Censor; therefore he can be acid, finicky and fastidious as much as you want but there is something which he can never be: a senile demented relic. Here Hirte very aptly avoids to stress the latter while carefully communicating the former. In the Nachtwächter we find the pleasingly warm velvet of an extremely young Bernd Weikl. Needless to say, since we are in Bayreuth, the chorus is beyond praise.

For those who like their Meistersinger less magniloquent and more human; for those who see in Meistersinger less the celebration of "die heil'ge deutsche Kunst" and more a celebration of Art and Life, this is a highly recommended set.