WORKS: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
PERFORMER: Robert Holl, Andreas Schmidt, Matthias Hölle, Peter Seiffert, Emily Magee, Endrik Wottrich, Birgitta Svendén; Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-29333-2
Barenboim’s Wagner needs to be seen as well as heard. Estranged from visual involvement, it can seem peculiarly bloodless, for all its surface beauty and meticulously observed detail. But experienced alongside the visceral Berlin and Bayreuth productions of Harry Kupfer and the brooding mises-en-scène of Hans Schavernoch, its understatement is less pronounced. For his Meistersinger, the recent Bayreuth staging by Wolfgang Wagner from which it derives has clearly proved less of a stimulus.
Not that there isn’t, as always with Barenboim, much to admire: the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra ravishes and cajoles; and the ear latches on to elements in Wagner’s texture often obscured in more dynamic readings. But there is little sense of the music’s narrating voice: despite Barenboim’s symphonic credentials, we live for the moment, not its wider meaning, with climaxes placed grudgingly rather than consequentially.
There’s a mismatch, too, between Barenboim’s quest for pastel shades and the less than pristine vocal equipment of the singers, a decent enough lot, but who might best have been steered towards more word-centred interpretations. One longs for a bit of the old Bayreuth bark to bring characters to life, though ironically it’s the finely sung Beckmesser of Andreas Schmidt, not the caricature of tradition, who remains vivid.
Admirers of Barenboim’s Wagner would best wait until the video release of this production, preferably on DVD. Kubelík’s 1967 account with Bavarian Radio forces, Thomas Stewart and Gundula Janowitz remains the benchmark, if currently unavailable, though few should be disappointed by Karajan’s 1970 Dresden set, reissued as part of EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century at mid-price, as warm and glowing as Barenboim’s is cool and cerebral. Antony Bye