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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868)
Maria Müller (soprano) Eva; Camilla Kallab (mezzo) Magdalena; Max Lorenz (tenor) Walther von Stolzing; Jaro Prohaska (baritone) Hans Sachs; Josef Greindl (bass) Pogner; Benno Arnold (tenor) Kunz Vogelgesang; Helmut Fehn (bass) Konrad Nachtigall; Eugen Fuchs (baritone) Beckmesser); Fritz Krenn (bass) Fritz Kothner; Gerhard Witting (tenor) Balthasar Zorn; Karl Krollmann (tenor) Augustin Moser; Herbert Gosebruch (bass) Hermann Ortel; Gustav Rödin (tenor) Ulrich Eisslinger; Franz Sauer (bass) Hans Schwarz; Alfred Dome (bass) Hans Foltz; Erich Zimmermann (tenor) David; Erich Pina (bass) Nightwatchman
Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler.
Extracts: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868) – Act 1 Preludea [9'29]; Parsifal (1882) - Karfreitagszauberb [10'55]; Götterdämmerung (1876) - Siegfried's Funeral Marcha [9'32]; Tristan und Isolde (1865) – Prelude and Liebestodc [18'58]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Wilhelm Furtwängler.
Rec. Bayreuth Festival. 1943, aFebruary 2nd, 1949, bApril 25th, 1951, cNovember 8th, 1942.
MUSIC & ARTS CD1153 [4 CDs: 72'36 + 74'32 + 78'52 + 71'02]
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A real treat, but be warned this is not a complete Meistersinger - there are gaps. But my word, it is worth it to experience Furtwängler's astonishing grasp of this huge score. This is Furtwängler the Light, entirely in touch with the aura this piece projects.

The performance is taken from 1943's Bayreuth Fetsival. The transfer level is fairly high, and strings can appear gritty and edgy, yet none of this can obscure Furtwängler's dignified conception of the Overture. Trills still buzz with energy, and the conductor's shaping of lyric melody is a thing of wonder.

Of the names in the cast list, possibly Josef Greindl was the greatest, and certainly his Pogner is one of the greatest assumptions this reviewer has heard. Greindl exhibits great depth of sound, and his 'Das schöne Fest Johannistag' is simply beautiful against a bed of sound in the orchestra.

In Walther (the great Max Lorenz), one hears a wonderful singer, to begin with obviously reining his voice in. He is unleashed for 'Am stillen Herd'. David (Erich Zimmermann) is hugely characterful. Sachs is Jaro Prohaska. I question whether this Sachs projects the requisite authority (his 'Halt, Meister!' towards the end of Act 1, for example), and right from the start he sounds on the tired side.

Throughout Act 1, Furtwängler inspires the Bayreuth orchestra to produce miracles. He never for a second merely accompanies, always fully aware of the Wagnerian tapestry in front of him.

The happy-go-lucky youthful swing of the opening of Act 2 is perhaps a little pressed by Furtwängler, although it does settle into some sort of a lilt. It is in Scene 2 that Furtwängler comes into his own, moulding the strings so expressively against Greindl's voice. Worth noting, too, that the Magdalene and Eva (Müller and Kallab) work so well together, their voices complementing each other. All of which seems in retrospect but preparation for Prohaska's Fliedermonolog. Here the distant horns are so many hunting horns, and if Prohaska's first part of this monologue is not fully involving, the sadness of the remainder more than makes up for it.

Müller comes into her own in Scene 5 ('Da ist er! - Ja, Ihr seid es!'), her impassioned duet with Walther rising to a natural climax, only to be interrupted by the Nightwatchman. Furtwängler coaxes from the orchestra during these scenes the most astonishing delicacy. A pity the Nightwatchman himself (Erich Pina) sounds nervous.

There is wit in this act too - not something that immediately springs to mind with Furtwängler! - around the discovery of Beckmesser and the depiction of the stage's chaos.

If one needs any proof as to Furtwängler's genius, one need only go to the Prelude to Act 3 - in fact, maybe even the first note thereof, which seems to immediately conjure up this first scene's special atmosphere. Note also the gorgeous horns - mellow and refined - and the real explosion of emotion at 5'57. True, the ensemble is not perfect as we shift into the action of the final act.

Here it is Sachs’ Wahn monologue that impresses. Believably world-weary, Prohaska is infinitely human. It is only later in the act that he appears not to have the truly 'paternal' touch. Lorenz, after Furtwängler's glowing preparation, really opens out for his 'Morgenlich leuchtend'.

If any act proves that this is Furtwängler's Meistersinger, it is this long Act 3. He paces it to perfection, with the end truly climactic. Certainly from Walther's Preislied onwards this sits at the very top of the Meistersinger tree, and all sonic limitations become irrelevant.

Good to have a second stab on CD4 at the Meistersinger apple in the Act 1 Prelude (BPO, February 29th, 1949), more assured in sound, plus a glowing 'Karfreitagszauber', Siegfried's Funeral March and a Prelude and Transfiguration from Tristan to close the set. But it is in the Bayreuth Meistersinger that this set's value lies, and for which we should be ever grateful, despite the missing sections.

Colin Clarke



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