> Richard Wagner - Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg

Vorspiel Act 1
Vorspiel Act 3
Dance of the Apprentices
Entry of the Masters

Siegfried’s Rhine Journey
Funeral March
Brunnhilde’s Immolation Scene

Overture +
Berit Lindholm, soprano
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
New Philharmonia Orchestra +
Leopold Stokowski
Recorded Fairfield Hall, Croydon September 1967 (Meistersinger), Royal Festival Hall June 1967 (Götterdammerung), Royal Festival Hall June 1968 (Rienzi)
BBCL 4088-2 [73’25]


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We have here three nights of Stokowski’s Wagner and much that is memorable. The conductor’s "Symphonic Syntheses" of Wagner’s operas may have had their origin in the critical reaction to his presentation of Parsifal in Philadelphia in 1933. The syntheses included passages from Tristan, Das Rheingold and Die Walkure and fused the music in a dramatically cogent way, using solo voices or else assigning that role to an orchestral instrumentalist. So Stokowski was a by no means inexperienced Wagnerian – on his own terms at least - when he came to give these performances in the Royal Festival and Fairfield Halls at the age of eighty-five. Cuttingly raw trumpets course through the Prelude to Act 1 of The Mastersingers abetted by a very individual woodwind patina. At 6’30 Stokowski asks for – and gets – stabbing string accents with accompanying piping clarinets, all the while maintaining clarity of orchestral strands; this is not some thoughtless, generalized traversal but a properly considered one which relies much less on saturation of sound than on structural coherence. It was in fact this work that Stokowski had conducted at his LSO debut in 1912 over fifty years earlier.

The Prelude to the Third Act similarly enshrines qualities of nobility and seriousness. There is rich melodic surety to the playing – the LSO on auspicious form – with lithe strings and mellow brass, captured in good, if not outstanding sound. Stokowski holds in balance elements of reverence and momentum to notably fine effect and once again those anticipating Stokowskian coagulation will have their expectations thwarted. The Dance of the Apprentices is vivacious and frisky. Violin entries are of defiantly brilliant articulation. Try listening to the very start, at 0’39, where after a superbly judged pause they slash into the texture with unanimity and passion. More felicities abound – the cello counter theme judged to perfection, the trumpets’ staccato juddering and finally the sonorities of almost spectral brilliance that the conductor evokes. In the excerpt from the Entry of the Masters the London Symphony Chorus was unexpectedly let loose – to electrifying effect, if the performance had not already been electric enough with its triumphant trumpets and trombones, heroic tympani and air of life affirming joy. Plasticity of phrasing informs Siegfried’s Rhine Journey, with its transparency and lightening of tone, its elemental elegance negotiated with patent understanding by Stokowski. Whereas in the Funeral Music from Götterdammerung there is a consuming and saturnine atmosphere, yearning violins and black draped brass that rise to engulfing fervour. Swedish Soprano Berit Lindholm was making her Royal Festival Hall debut in Brunnhilde’s Immolation Scene. Stokowski was sufficiently impressed to invite her to New York two years later to sing in an all-Wagner concert at Carnegie Hall, all the more notable because she had only made her debut in 1963. She has a richly nuanced voice, a deep dramatic soprano with a resonant bottom extension capable of considerable projection. She sustains the length of her scene with insight and is often unerringly beautiful. Finally Rienzi; eloquent string phrasing, effortless gallantry and wit, all the Stokowskian virtues with none of the supposed vices and in rich and supportive sound. A magnificent finale to a disc that furnishes more compelling evidence of Stokowski’s orchestral greatness.

Jonathan Woolf

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