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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868)
Hans Sachs: Bernd Weikl (baritone)
Veit Pogner: Kurt Moll (bass)
Kunz Vogelgesang: Michael Schade (tenor)
Konrad Nachtigall: Hans Wilbrink (baritone)
Sixtus Beckmesser: Siegfried Lorenz (baritone)
Fritz Kothner: Hans-Joachim Ketelsen (bass)
Balthasar Zorn: Ulrich Ress (tenor)
Ulrich Eißlinger: Hermann Sapell (tenor)
Augustin Moser: Roland Wagenführer (tenor)
Hermann Ortel: Rainer Buese (bass)
Hans Schwarz: Guido Götzen (bass)
Hans Foltz: Friedemann Kunder (bass)
Walther von Stolzing: Ben Heppner (tenor)
David: Deon van der Walt (tenor)
Eva: Cheryl Studer (soprano)
Magdalene: Cornelia Kallisch (mezzo)
Nightwatchman: René Pape (bass)
Bavarian State Opera Chorus/Udo Mehrpohl
Bavarian State Opera Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch
rec. April 1993, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk; Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich
EMI CLASSICS 5091952 [4 CDs: 69:18 + 71:16 + 66:31 + 49:36]


Experience Classicsonline

As with his contemporary set of Strauss’s Elektra, Sawallisch brings the lifetime experience of a true Kapellmeister to his performance of Wagner’s great comedy. In Strauss’s opera Sawallisch’s mastery of the score couldn’t disguise the fact that some of his protagonists were, to be frank, not up to the job. Happily his 1993 set of Meistersinger is another matter.

Working with what were then his own Bavarian State Opera forces, Sawallisch creates a true sense of an ensemble performance, with even the small parts contributing in their own way to the overall effect. His pacing of the score is expert, allowing us to savour Wagner’s richest lyrical moments, and opening up for the big set-pieces such as the transition to the Meadows for the last scene of Act 3. He is also adept at projecting Wagner’s contrapuntal mastery in this score, a tribute to historic German tradition embodied by Bach and others. He is helped by a sound-picture that is rich, clear and resonant. 

Bernd Weikl's Sachs is a solid, dependable creation, nobly voiced although perhaps lacking just the last degree of poetry and imagination which the greatest interpreters have brought to the part - witness Hans Hotter, for example, on Music and Arts from Bayreuth in 1956. Perhaps more cobbler than poet, he sings well but doesn’t always pierce to the soul of Wagner’s genial creation. It’s a performance that embodies ample experience without being especially memorable in its own right. Theo Adam’s Sachs on Karajan’s Dresden set came in for some criticism for being rather gruff of voice, but he characterises the role far more effectively than Weikl. Norman Bailey on Solti’s first set is also very good, although he is let down by his conductor’s slick approach. Chandos hope to release a live Sadler’s Wells Mastersingers from 1968 under Reginald Goodall featuring Bailey, Remedios et al which should be worth waiting for.

Ben Heppner’s radiantly secure Walther is a joy from start to finish, to my mind rivalling Sandor Konya in Kubelik’s marvellous 1967 Munich set, originally made for DG but never issued by that label and only appearing many years later on Myto and Calig. Try to track it down if you’ve never heard it. Heppner’s singing of the Prize Song is one of the finest on disc, and his exchanges with Eva and Sachs are very fine. He is also adept at projecting Walther’s nervous anger as he is initially rejected by the assembled Mastersingers and his growing confidence as his musical skill progresses under Sachs’s tutelage. 

Studer sings the role of Eva with radiant tone although in terms of imagination she is not the equal of Schwarzkopf in the live 1951 Bayreuth recording with Karajan. Her exchanges with Sachs which form the centre-piece of the opera are well pointed and create a believable portrait of a young woman torn between duty to her father and attraction to the new in the shape of Walther von Stolzing. Perhaps a little more experience in the role would have turned her performance from good to superlative. 

The late Deon van der Walt sings a characterful, bright-eyed David, Magdalene is sung by the excellent Cornelia Kallisch. Siegfried Lorenz as Beckmesser is a past master at vocal and verbal emphasis, in the great traditions of the role; like all the best performers this is not an unpleasant caricature and we are not allowed to forget that Beckmesser, for all his pedantry, is also a Mastersinger. My ideal would have been to hear Fischer-Dieskau in the role, but that’s not going to happen! 

Sawallisch is the hero of the hour here, supported by some excellent individual performances and choral and orchestral forces which have this music thoroughly in their blood.

Ewan McCormick



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