WORKS: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Grümmer, Marga Höffgen, Rudolf Schock, Gerhard Unger, Ferdinand Frantz, Gottlob Frick, Benno KuscheChoruses of the Deutsche Oper and Staatsoper, Choir of St Hedwig’s Cathedral, Berlin PO/Rudolf Kempe
CATALOGUE NO: CMS 7 64154-2 ADD
This classic recording has been out of the catalogue for far too long and appears now for the first time on CD. Kempe’s conducting of this glorious score is simply the best on any commercial recording: witty, humane and supremely lyrical. Nothing he does sounds superimposed on Wagner’s music, or contrived. The Overture perfectly encapsulates the characters of the comedy’s principal players: the portentous Mastersingers, the ardently poetic young lovers, David and his fellow apprentices.
Kempe is conducting the Berlin Phil of 1956 vintage – that is, before the Karajanisation process had put its constituent sections through the tonal blender – and their playing is full of effortless urbanity and character. The cast, too, is historic. Not unflawed, perhaps, but this is a true German ensemble of the highest calibre, culled from either side of the Berlin divide (and before the Wall prevented such cooperation).
Ferdinand Frantz, Furtwängler’s Wotan, is a tireless Sachs, more cobbler than poet; Schock a not quite heroic Stolzing whose singing – appropriately enough – grows in stature as he prepares for his Mastersong.
Elisabeth Grümmer’s glorious Eva – heartbreaking at ‘Lieb’ Vater, muss es ein Meister sein?’ – and Unger’s David have never been – probably never will be – bettered. Frick’s Pogner, Kusche’s Beckmesser and Neidlinger’s Kothner stand out vividly from the Mastersingers’ Guild.
A wonderful set with more than tolerable sound, but a black mark to EMI for providing no libretto, thus putting it out of court as a first choice. Hugh Canning