Many thanks to Trottar for this treasure
Despite his disdain for some of the sillier aspects of grand opera, H.L. Mencken once said that “Die Meistersinger” was the greatest single work of art of western civilization–and to many, his hyperbole is forgivable when one contemplates the well-crafted structure of this most human of Wagner’s music dramas. Of all recordings of Wagner’s sole comedy, this one under the baton of Karajan at his prime has perhaps the best-balanced cast. The clear, youthful tones of Donath in the role of Eva must be close to Wagner’s ideal for the role, while Adam makes a compassionate Sachs–though not quite as resonant as one would wish. Kollo’s impetuous style is appropriate to the character of the lovestruck Walther. The orchestral playing has the clarity and transparency that is the trademark of the Karajan style, perhaps most appropriate in this, Wagner’s happiest work.
–Christian C. Rix
Composer: Richard Wagner
Performer: Peter Schreier, Helen Donath, Theo Adam, Kurt Moll, René Kollo, Karl Ridderbusch, Ruth Hesse, Geraint Evans
Orchestra: Staatskapelle Dresden
Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Number of Discs: 5
DR-Analysis: DR 14
Size: 5.18 GB
The Mastersingers is a tribute to popular German art. Folk-art of this kind was probably a romantic illusion of Wagner’s own, but he took seriously the idea that each culture should be true to itself, and one reason behind the particular vocal style he adopted in his music-dramas (The Rhinegold and later) was that performances outwith Germany should be able to give them in their own language, something not so easy to achieve with traditional operatic arias. Whether any of this made Wagner the socialist that Shaw liked to think he was I very much doubt. It also seems to me that attempts to find proto-nazism in Die Meistersinger are not only stuff, but also nonsense. It is quite true that towards the end of the work Sachs voices fears for the survival of the German identity, but so far as it goes I can see nothing at all wrong with that. Insofar as the musical tradition was concerned, it was by no means limited to Wagner in any case. Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn were thoroughly imbued in their musical idiom with the influence of Italy, but the music of Schumann and Brahms is as completely, consciously and exclusively German as Wagner’s own, and as Bach’s had been a century and a half earlier.
The Mastersingers is a ‘comedy’, in something like the sense that that term applies in Shakespeare. It is not rolling-in-the-aisles stuff, and its basic message is deeply thoughtful and serious. There are actually a couple of incidents that I personally find rather amusing. One is the interminable list of rules for composition, and the other is Sachs’s explanation to Beckmesser of why the latter’s shoes have rather thin soles. Typically, Wagner is at pains to point out his own jokes in case we missed them. The pillorying of Beckmesser, usually identified with the eminent Vienna critic Eduard Hanslick, may be funny to some. It is certainly rather clever. Wagner neatly puts into Beckmesser’s mouth some of the tin-eared rubbish that Hanslick had turned out by way of criticism of himself, although without any of Hanslick’s wit and turn of phrase which must have been what really wounded Wagner. Where Wagner seems to me to take a really breathtaking risk is in writing a drama round the theme of awarding a prize to a tune of his own composition. It is very hard indeed even to imagine Handel, Mozart or Verdi or anyone else with a more developed sense of humour than Wagner walking into a trap like that. I am reacquainting myself with The Mastersingers after many years, and when young I was inclined to think that I would have withheld the prize in the competition. Wagner’s tune bears a faint resemblance to one by Brahms in his ‘Mastersingers’ violin sonata, and I still think it suffers a little from the comparison. Whether time has mellowed my opinion or just because Wagner gives us the tune quite so often, I think better of it now, and if the resemblance is not coincidence it can only be a deliberate tribute by Brahms, bursting with melodic inspiration himself, to his great polar opposite.
The Mastersingers is described in this set as an opera. I suppose it is, in one sense, but it is still a music-drama first and foremost. Goetterdaemmerung is a bit of an opera too, but not for the best of reasons as here, more of a partial relapse into the unreformed early style of Tannhaeuser. As one expects, Karajan is completely in charge of what he is doing, and there is never a hint of a stylistic lapse, not even, in my view, the way Evans handles the part of Beckmesser. There is a touch of Mime about it, but this is a work dominated by baritone voices, and the differentiation is welcome to my ears. In general, I’m inclined to argue in support of all the male casting. I go a bundle on the voice of Rene Kollo, and have done since I first heard him in the marvellous Brahms Rinaldo that he did with Sinopoli (now there is a work that gives a fascinating glimpse into another direction that German opera might have taken if the composer had found the libretto he was purportedly searching for), and when Kollo sings ‘Parnass und Paradies’ it was all I could do to concentrate on what I was listening to as Brahms’s celestial cadence at ‘Paradiese noch einmal’, sung by the same voice, came into my head. I like Theo Adam as Sachs, just as I like him as Wotan. I grew up thinking of Hotter as the type of the Wagnerian bass, but Sachs is a modest craftsman, not the prophet Isaiah, and the bemused and futile Wotan is no Zeus, and I have come to prefer a lighter voice in both roles. The Eva and Magdalene seem to me good though not outstanding, although Donath produces a superb final trill at ‘so hold zu werben weiss’. The big effects are big indeed here. The tradesmen process like the gods entering Valhalla in The Rhinegold, but in my own view we should think of that comparison the other way round – Wagner’s gods are a wretched lot and their Valhalla a miserable tabernacle of delusion, which they enter like the cobblers bakers and tailors of Nuremberg. There is a lot of choral work here, Wagner was no Handel in that regard to put it mildly, but Karajan rightly plays the effect up.
As always with Karajan, there’s nothing much to criticise. However in all my life I’m not sure I can remember anything I would rather hear done by him than by anyone else. I have come back to The Mastersingers after a long time and with no other performance in my head, but I had wistful thoughts of how Fuertwaengler or Toscanini or Beecham might have done it. To that ‘Silentium! Silentium!’, to quote the apprentices. This is a fine issue, this is a great work, and I feel a better man for just having listened to it.
Analyzed folder: /96k Wagner – Die Meistersaenger Von Nuernberg – Karajan
DR Peak RMS Filename
DR13 -0.95 dB -19.76 dB sideA.aif
DR15 -1.01 dB -21.22 dB sideB.aif
DR14 -0.75 dB -20.45 dB sideC.aif
DR15 -0.54 dB -21.48 dB sideD.aif
DR14 -0.74 dB -21.01 dB sideE.aif
DR16 -0.73 dB -23.91 dB sideF.aif
DR16 -0.82 dB -22.37 dB sideG.aif
DR14 -0.64 dB -20.47 dB sideH.aif
DR14 -0.37 dB -19.79 dB sideI.aif
DR13 -0.46 dB -20.16 dB sideJ.aif
Number of files: 10
Official DR value: DR14
- Choir – Chor Der Staatsoper Dresden, Chor Des Leipziger Rundfunks
- Chorus Master – Walter Hagen-Groll
- Composed By – Richard Wagner
- Conductor – Herbert Von Karajan
- Engineer [Balance] – Christopher Parker, Klaus Strüben*
- Orchestra – Staatskapelle Dresden
- Producer – Dieter-Gerhardt Worm, Ronald Kinloch Anderson
- Vocals [Augustin Moser] – Horst Hiestermann
- Vocals [Balthasar Zorn] – Hans-Joachim Rotzsch
- Vocals [David] – Peter Schreier
- Vocals [Eva] – Helen Donath
- Vocals [Fritz Kothner] – Zoltan Kélémen
- Vocals [Hans Foltz] – Siegfried Vogel
- Vocals [Hans Sachs] – Theo Adam
- Vocals [Hans Schwarz] – Heinz Reeh
- Vocals [Hermann Ortel] – Hermann Christian Polster
- Vocals [Konrad Nachtigall] – Horst Lunow
- Vocals [Kunz Vogelgesang] – Eberhard Büchner
- Vocals [Magdalene] – Ruth Hesse
- Vocals [Nachtwächter / Nightwatchman] – Kurt Moll
- Vocals [Sixtus Beckmesser] – Geraint Evans
- Vocals [Ulrich Eisslinger] – Peter Bindszus
- Vocals [Veit Pogner] – Karl Ridderbusch
- Vocals [Walther Von Stolzing] – René Kollo
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Opera in three acts
This composite recording was made November 24-30, December 1-4, 1970 at the Lukaskirche, Dresden, GDR in coorperation with VEB Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin.
Originally premiered 1868 in Munich. With usually clocking 5 hours playing time it’s the longest (still commonly performed today) opera ever. Herbert von Karajan is well known for speeding up every performance.
The box set comes with a large booklet in German and English with photos, biographies and other details as well a complete libretto
Total playing time: 4:25:41
- RCM: Okki Nokki (L’art du son, Clearaudio’s Diamond Cleaner)
- TT: Vintage (1982) Yamaha PX-3
Cartridge: Sumiko Black Bird
- Cartridge: ZYX 50R Bloom
- Phono amp: Audio Research SP15 own tube phono section.
- ADC/DAC: RME Fireface UC
- Pre Amp: Audio Research SP15
- Finals: Opera Consonance 9.9 Mono (Tube)
- Speakers: Dali Helikon 400
- Connections: MIT Terminator, Audioquest Emerald, Audioquest Quartz
- Software: iZotope RX 4 Advanced, Adobe Audition CS 5.5, Twisted Wave 1.9
- Super light de-clicking with iZotope, significant clicks manually removing, no de-noising
- DR-Analisys before converting to Flac
- Converting Wave -> Flac: Twisted Wave 1.9
- Artwork: Sony Alpha 350, Epson Perfection V750 Pro, Photoshop CS 5.5
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