Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg [Complete] [Germany]
A lot better than "Very Good".
Theodore Shulman | NYC | 09/01/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This performance isn't just "very good" as the other reviewer said; it's fan-freaking-tastic and in some ways unique and it's one of my two "desert-island" Meistersingers. (Yes, I need two. The other is Bayreuth 1960 with Knappertsbusch and Windgassen and Josef Greindl but that's another review). Otto Wiener definitely gets a bad rap because he's a midrange baritone with a broad, open top, rather than a thick, Wotanesque bass-baritone, and because is timbre is distinctive (or peculiar, depending on your attitude), with lots of nasal resonance and upper harmonics. It bothers some people but it doesn't bother me at all. He has a loud, carrying voice--he was the Herrufer of choice at Bayreuth for a long time and in demand all over for Beethoven's 9th Symphony. He also has a sweet, natural, relaxed, well-supported ultra-legato technique if you don't mind a wide vibrato. And a real sense of melody, and the Laurence-Olivier-like quality of sounding as if he's thinking the lines for the first time. His philosophy-and-music lesson with Walther at the beginning of Act III just before Walther composes the Prize Song sounds more heartfelt and conversational than anyone's.
It helps also that Jess Thomas is the most intelligent and genuine Walther I've ever heard (except for Windgassen and JT is more consistent). His German is like native. His musicianship is brilliant but not overcalculated. It would be interesting to hear him sing Mozart or Bach. He's also plenty big. Too high to be called a heldentenor but a real tenor-athlete and a compelling actor.
Speaking of compelling actors, Benno Kusche's Beckmesser is indeed a treat. He had been playing him everywhere for more than a decade and it's still fresh. There's a recording of his Leporello which is a treasure somewhere on my shelves. He sure knows how to make his voice murky, and how to play slimy characters that get beat up, without sacrificing pitch and musicality. I don't know if he ever played Falstaff but if he did I'd buy it in a second. If there's a flaw, it's that he emphasizes sliminess over whineyness.
The previous reviewer overlooked the august presence of legendary superstar Hans Hotter as Pogner the goldsmith. If nothing else he carries enormous celebrity value. At this point he was trying to cope with getting too old and weak to lift his gigantic instrument, by abandoning his top and switching to bass roles. You can judge how successful he was here. He certainly never lost his authority and tenderness.
Claire Watson is... well not quite a flaw but definitely a weakness. She does not sound like a young pampered rich girl at all. She's maybe too used to playing Sieglinde and Elsa--"rescue me" sopranos who suffer even when they're happy.
Fredrich Lenz's David is beautiful and there are some vocally recognizable former big shots among the lesser Masters. Karl Ostertag, Max Proebstl. Keilberth is on top of his game, with careful attention to nuance and mood, and a welcome preference for brisk tempi. All in all a terrific experience, definitely worth whatever obscene price amazon is charging for it.
UPDATE: I now have a THIRD desert-island MEISTERSINGER. It's from Bayreuth 1957, conducted by Andre Clutyens, featuring Gustav Neidlinger as Hans Sachs. Printed by an outfit called "Walhall Eternity Series". Good luck finding it; it took me twenty years of searching and I got the last copy the importer had. Check out Norbeck, Peters, and Ford, online. Amazon won't let me post a link but you can google these blessed sellers-of-concentrated-pleasure who will surely enjoy special places in Heaven for what they have done and are doing.
Neidlinger's Sachs is unlike any other. If you don't know, he was the undisputed owner of the roles of frenzied self-mutilated monsters Alberich and Klingsor for two decades because of his natural dramatic affinity, polished-ebony timbre, and cannon-ball density. Some voice teachers talk about the "smile" in the voice; he had a Hannibal-Lektor grin in his. Pavarotti said singing was "yelling with education"; Neidlinger howled, shrieked, and wailed like a super-powered two-year old but with great education and pitch, sliding from note to note in a well-targetted shout-stimme. He brings his raw sadism to Sachs' interactions with Beckmesser, but he's also appealing, human rather than goblin, even touching when he recalls his dead wife and children in the Act II exchange with Eva. And charismatic at the end. My only criticism is he sounds a little matter-of-fact during the history-and-philosophy lesson with Walther."
Mr. Allan K. Steel | Sydney, AUS | 11/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jess Thomas is excellent as Walther.
The Sachs (Wiener) is OK: a bit rough but bearable.
The Beckmesser is great (Kusche).
Very good sound for live performance in Munich in 1963. Can hear harp in curious places which is cute! Choruses very good, too.
So overall, a very good Meistersinger."
Leonard Zane | California | 06/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Reviewer Theodore Shulman has rightly declared: "This performance isn't just 'very good' as the other reviewer [Allan K. Steel] said; it's fan-freaking-tastic"(!)
Mr. Shulman's breadth of experience and understanding far exceed mine on this spectacular work and on this particular performance. But there's something I want to add to his comments and also to Mr. Steel's calling Jess Thomas "excellent." Jess Thomas' voice, in this opera and in several other Wagner ones, is immensely beautiful and the epitome of youthfulness. I can't recall any Wagnerian tenor who sounds so young and smooth and powerful at the same time, including the great Wolfgang Windgassen.
Having met Mr. Thomas, and noting his at least 6'4" height and massive chest, it somehow seems even more remarkable that he sounds so golden and young as he does in this Meistersinger -- and in Lohengrin and Parsifal, too. So many opera singers sound old, but not this guy. The music world is lucky for such a magnificent helden tenor; and this fabulous recording so marvelously conducted by Joseph Keilberth should be re-released!"