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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - opera in three acts (1868) [262:05]
Hans Sachs - Ferdinand Frantz
Veit Pogner - Kurt Böhme
Sixtus Beckmesser - Heinrich Pflanzl
Fritz Kothner - Karl Paul
Walther von Stolzing - Bernd Aldenhoff
David - Gerhard Unger
Eva - Tiana Lemnitz
Magdalene - Emilie Walter-Sacks
Hans Foltz - Werner Faulhaber
Chor der Staatsoper Dresden/Ernst Hintze
Staatskapelle Dresden/Rudolf Kempe
Artistic Direction: Hans-Hendrik Wehding
Technical Direction: Gerhard Probst und Rudolf Wendland
rec. 29 April 1951, Dresden, Germany
No sung texts
Semperoper Edition vol. 6
PROFIL PH13006 [4 CDs: 79.51 + 61.59 + 65.54 + 53.21]

Dresden certainly has a strong tradition of staging Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with well over five hundred performances since its Dresden première in 1869. Surely there are many more Dresden performances to come as the current principal conductor of the Staatskapelle, Christian Thielemann, now also music director of the Bayreuther Festspiele, is such a Wagner devotee.
 
In Dresden, Heinz Arnold’s 1950 production of Die Meistersinger under Rudolf Kempe at Großer Saal, Staatsschauspiel, was highly successful. So it was decided that the Dresden broadcasting station of Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk would record under studio conditions Kempe's complete Die Meistersinger. With the exception of Ferdinand Frantz as Sachs and Tiana Lemnitz as Eva the cast is largely the same. The recording was made on 29 April 1951 in Dresden at either the Großer Saal, Staatsschauspiel, which after 1945 bomb damage had reopened in 1948 or the Steinsaal des Dresdner Hygienemuseums that was being used by the Dresden station as a recording studio. Wagner had three operas premièred at the Semperoper which is where this recording would probably have been made but bombing had virtually destroyed the building which was undergoing reconstruction until 1985. Lasting almost 4½ hours this 1951 recording has been produced using the original master tapes, actually 19 magnetic tape spools that had been discovered in storage at the Berliner Rundfunk Forschungszentrum where they had been since the late 1950s. The masters have now been returned to Dresden and are archived at Sächsischen Landesbibliothek.
 
Turning his attention temporarily away from Teutonic mythology, Wagner’s lifelong obsession, he chose a comic opera for his next project. As a teenager Wagner had seen the play Hans Sachs by Johann Ludwig Franz Deinhardstein in Vienna. Further inspiration came from reading Georg Gottfried Gervinus’s book on the history of German national literature, Johann Christoph Wagenseil’s commentary on the noble art of the Mastersingers of Nürnberg. In 1842 he attended a performance of Lortzing’s opera Hans Sachs at Dresden. Wagner’s idealised setting is a thriving community in medieval Nürnberg with its numerous trade guild societies of which the Meistersingers is the most distinguished. It’s a comedy, a predominantly sunlit score although there are some sinister moments and it concludes with irrepressible affirmation and celebration.

Deservedly stealing the show on this recording for his performance of cobbler Hans Sachs is Kassel-born bass-baritone Ferdinand Frantz. A renowned Wagnerian, especially noted for the roles of Wotan and Sachs at the time of this recording, he was a member of the Bayerische Staatsoper. Frantz’s undoubted vocal authority, clarity of enunciation and resilience in this long and demanding role are palpable. He doesn’t put a foot wrong. In Sachs’ act 2 Flieder Monologue and act 3 Wahn Monologue Frantz’s rounded, mahogany tone is displayed to great effect anchored by his substantial and firm, low register. Especially agreeable is the act 2 Cobbler’s Song and the act 3 Verachtet mir die Meister nicht in praise of holy German art. The latter immediately precedes the triumphant closing chorus. In her prime Tiana Lemnitz’s portrayal of Eva, Pogner’s daughter, a signature role was much acclaimed. A member of the Staatsoper Berlin from 1934 for over twenty years the Metz-born soprano, who would have been in her mid-fifties for this recording, sings with assurance as a suitably girl-like Eva. A highlight is Eva’s act 3 aria O Sachs! Mein Freund, with Lemnitz’s radiant, fluid voice communicating blissful happiness. She achieves her high notes comfortably.

In the role of Walther von Stolzing, the young knight from Franconia is the Duisburg heldentenor Bernd Aldenhoff. Renowned as a poised and sensitive Wagnerian Aldenhoff was at the time of this recording a Staatsoper Dresden member. Later in the season he played his first Siegfried at the Bayreuther Festspiele. Walther’s testing Prize Song from act 3, a love song to Eva, is rendered impressively by Aldenhoff. Not over-bright his voice, with splendidly clear diction, has a deceptive tensile strength and can reach down to a near baritonal level. Aged around 35 at the time of this recording Gerhard Unger’s voice easily passes for Sachs’s young apprentice David which was a signature role for him. From Bad Salzungen the lyric tenor was at the time with the Staatsoper Dresden. He was starting to appear regularly at the Bayreuther Festspiele and later became a Staatsoper Berlin member. Making the most of his role Unger is especially admirable in Schumacherei und Poeterei from act 1. His attractive voice, reasonably bright but not piercing, displays ample sincerity and musicianship.

The opera’s often discussed disturbing undertow revolves around the Jewish caricature of Sixtus Beckmesser, town clerk and chief marker of the guild, who is subsequently held up to mockery and disgrace. Singing Beckmesser is Salzburgian Heinrich Pflanzl who was that season to sing Beckmesser, Kothner and Alberich at Bayreuth and was around this time attached to the Komische Oper and Staatsoper Berlin. From act 2 Beckmesser Serenade: Den Tag seh' ich erscheinen the town clerk is beneath Eva’s window ridiculously singing of his excitement at the possibility of winning Eva in the song contest. Pflanzl’s fluid voice is immediately noticeable in the Serenade, eminently expressive and well controlled too.

Kurt Böhme sings the part of Veit Pogner the goldsmith. From act 1 in Pogner’s Monologue: Das schöne Fest, Johannistag the goldsmith is looking forward to tomorrow’s singing contest and will give his daughter Eva away as the song contest prize. The Dresden-born bass who had been a member of Staatsoper Dresden was at the time part of the Bayerische Staatsoper and would later sing Pogner at the Bayreuther Festspiele and join the Wiener Staatsoper. Mature sounding, Böhme’s voice is reasonably steady and here he maintains a dark tone throughout. The role of baker Fritz Kothner is taken by Karl Paul a native of Crimmitschau, Saxony. Formerly at the Staatskapelle Weimar, at this time the baritone had recently joined the Staatsoper Dresden. In Was euch zum Leide Richt from act 1 the baker is reading out the competition rules to Walther and the design the song must take. Making his mark, Paul is well focused and provides good expression and colouration. Another highlight is the celebrated act 3 quintet Selig, wie die Sonne beautifully performed and decidedly affecting too.

With consistently attractive playing from the Staatskapelle, Rudolf Kempe successfully balances the broad dynamics with the melodic line. As the pinnacle of the evening the conclusion exceeds its reputation. The vocally inspiring choral forces of the Staatsoper sing their hearts out in praise of Hans Sachs the Meistersinger of Nürnberg. It is one of those special spine-tingling operatic moments.
 
Accompanying the Profil release is a lavishly presented 84 page booklet. It provides detailed notes that serve as a synopsis, biographies and a number of fascinating photographs. The images used are mainly from the Dresden productions directed by Heinz Arnold from 1950 and the Wolfgang Wagner in 1985. Sadly a black mark has to be awarded for not providing a libretto and translations; indispensable for opera releases. Re-mastered in 2013 from the original Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk tapes by THS Studio Holger Siedler the 65 year old sound of the soloists has a remarkable clarity, the orchestra rather less so. Noticeably the producer has the soloists placed appreciably forward of the orchestra something that I don’t often experience with many recordings today but an approach definitely to my taste.

The two recordings of Die Meistersinger that have provided the most satisfaction over the years are from Eugen Jochum and Rafael Kubelik. Jochum directs the Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper, Berlin with Sachs played by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Sachs and Catarina Ligendza as Eva. This was recorded by DG in 1976 at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin. Then there's Rafael Kubelik and the Chor und Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Thomas Stewart in the role of Sachs and Gundula Janowitz as Eva from 1967 at Herkulessaal, Munich. This was re-mastered on Arts Archives but had originally been released on Calig.

The present epic Dresden performance from Kempe is the finest I have heard. We hear a tremendously balanced cast singing with a spontaneous quality that one rarely encounters in studio recordings. In short this is a Meistersinger to treasure.

Michael Cookson

 

 




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