Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Rudolf Kempe
Chöre der Städtischen Oper und der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin, Chor der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale Berlin, Berliner Philharmoniker
April 1956
Wintergarten Berlin
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsFerdinand Frantz
Veit PognerGottlob Frick
Kunz VogelgesangHorst Wilhelm
Konrad NachtigallWalter Stoll
Sixtus BeckmesserBenno Kusche
Fritz KothnerGustav Neidlinger
Balthasar ZornManfred Schmidt
Ulrich EißlingerLeopold Clam
Augustin MoserHerold Kraus
Hermann OrtelRobert Koffmane
Hans SchwartzAnton Metternich
Hans FoltzHanns Pick
Walther von StolzingRudolf Schock
DavidGerhard Unger
EvaElisabeth Grümmer
MagdaleneMarga Höffgen
Ein NachtwächterHermann Prey

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


From the mid-’50s, on EMI, we have the last of the thoroughly conversational readings: Kempe’s second Meistersinger is as inspired in this regard as Jochum, the young Karajan, or Knappertsbusch — and Kempe has a genuine warmth all his own. His cast is generally excellent as well, and I can understand why many regard this as the best set of all. Frantz’s Sachs, although vocally strong, is not as vocally fresh here as Edelmann’s, although a more apt interpreter (Frantz is that fresh plus the same more apt interpreter in an earlier Kempe set unfortunately hobbled by an especially ungainly Walther, I feel). Gruemmer’s Eva sports a lovely vocal quality and the inborn vividness of a true actress. When luminaries like Gustav Neidlinger, Gottlob Frick, and Hermann Prey (as the Nightwatchman!!!!!!!!!!), and so on, are heard in supporting roles, one has to acknowledge this set as something very special indeed. Rudolf Schock’s tenor voice is more suited to this role than that of some of his predecessors like Suthaus or Treptow, but I stand in a minority in that I find the strain heard in Schock’s singing even more disconcerting than Treptow’s on the studio Kna. As I say, I recognize this as a minority opinion, but I feel that, ultimately, Schock’s occasional struggles simply compromise the phrasing and the music more than do Treptow’s, the latter seeming marginally more in control to me. Schock still seems more attractive in this role, though, than Hopf.

Geoffrey Riggs

User Rating
Media Type/Label
EMI, HMV, Angel, Eterna
Technical Specifications
328 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 549 MByte (flac)