WORKS: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
PERFORMER: Ben Heppner, Karita Mattila, José van Dam, René Pape, Alan Opie, Herbert Lippert, Iris VermillionChicago SO & Chorus/Georg Solti
CATALOGUE NO: 452 606-2
Georg Solti last recorded Die Meistersinger in 1976 and it would be good to be able to report that this remake offered the rich insights of a veteran Wagnerian. Sadly, there are few to be had here: rather Solti’s trademark hyperactivity, generated by nervous jabbing at phrases, consistently undersells the score’s textural subtleties – even its good humour. The contribution of the Chicago SO (and Chorus) is excellent and there are occasional glimpses of what might have been. But even Solti at his best, in the Act III Prelude, is pedestrian compared with Kempe or Furtwängler. The plodding staccato of the following music for the apprentice David (tolerably sung by Herbert Lippert) is no match for Sawallisch’s finely shaped phrasing (EMI), while Sachs’s ‘Wahn’ Monologue (and the assumption of the role generally) displays Van Dam’s typically bland legato – beautiful tone but minimal verbal inflection – where in 1976 Solti had the infinitely superior Norman Bailey.
Perhaps Solti’s insensitivity rubs off on his singers: inspired by Sawallisch’s halo of strings, Ben Heppner sounds as if he is truly improvising his Morning Dream Song; Solti’s prosaic accompaniment draws from the same singer an account utterly lacking in mystery or imagination. Elsewhere, Heppner, indubitably the world’s leading Walther, is more satisfactory. René Pape – Sawallisch’s Nightwatchman and surely an ideal future Sachs – is a wonderfully expressive Pogner, while Karita Mattila is no less glorious as Eva. Fine contributions too from Alan Opie as Beckmesser and Iris Vermillion as Magdalene. Barry Millington