Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Rafael Kubelík
Chor und Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
1 – 8 October 1967
Herkulessaal München
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsThomas Stewart
Veit PognerFranz Crass
Kunz VogelgesangHorst Wilhelm
Konrad NachtigallRichard Kogel
Sixtus BeckmesserThomas Hemsley
Fritz KothnerKieth Engen
Balthasar ZornManfred Schmidt
Ulrich EißlingerFriedrich Lenz
Augustin MoserPeter Baillie
Hermann OrtelAnton Diakov
Hans SchwartzKarl Christian Kohn
Hans FoltzDieter Slembeck
Walther von StolzingSándor Kónya
DavidGerhard Unger
EvaGundula Janowitz
MagdaleneBrigitte Fassbaender
Ein NachtwächterRaimund Grumbach

There could be no more fitting memorial to Kubelík than the appearance of this, probably the most all-round satisfying Meistersinger in the era of stereo. It was recorded in 1967 by Bavarian Radio to mark the work’s centenary the following year. Kubelík conducts an unforced, loving interpretation, showing a gratifying grasp of overall structure. As a whole the reading has an unobtrusive cohesion achieved within flexible tempi and dynamics. Everything proceeds at an even, well-judged pace with just the right surge of emotion at the climaxes. All this is conveyed unerringly to his own Bavarian Radio forces.

Stewart’s Sachs is certainly his most successful performance on disc. He offers a finely moulded, deeply considered reading that relies on firm, evenly produced, mostly warm tone to create a darkish, philosophical poet-cobbler. Kónya is simply the most winning Walther on any set, superseding Sawallisch’s excellent Heppner by virtue of a greater ardour in his delivery. Kónya pours out consistently warm, clear tone, his tenor hovering ideally between the lyric and the heroic. Nor are there many better Evas than the young Janowitz, certainly none with a lovelier voice. Franz Crass, a less pompous Pogner than some, sings his part effortlessly, with noble feeling. Hemsley, though singing his first Beckmesser, evinces a close affinity with the Town Clerk’s mean-mindedness, and his German is faultless. Unger is a paragon among Davids, so eager in his responses and finding just the right timbre for the role. His Magdalene, again perfect casting, is the young Fassbaender. With a characterful Kothner in Engen, the requirements for a near-ideal Meistersinger ensemble are in place. As the recording doesn’t betray its age, this would undoubtedly be the first choice among stereo versions.


Arts have made Wagnerian enthusiasts indebted to them with two priceless reissues of Kubelík recordings dating from the charismatic Czech conductors’ tenure at the Bavarian Radio. This ‘Meistersinger’ is a fantastic recording that deserves its resurrection and can safely be recommended as one of the best issues now available.

Kubelík directs a noble and passionate course through this, Wagner’s longest opera and at times his most comic. You can feel a deep Germanic thread running through the wonderful overture and sailing right through to the opening chorus, you can sense that there is a strong master at the helm. Stewart is an imposing Sachs, his diction is perhaps slightly faulted but there is nothing wrong with his imposing singing that relly is wonderful.

The other soloists are also at the peak of their vocal prime. Gundula Janowitz is a mercurial Eva whilst Brigitte Fassbaender excels as Magdalene with Gerhard Unger also a very creditable David. I really enjoyed the beautiful Second Act which can occasionally seem tedious if in the wrong hands but Kubelík handles all with a delightful knowledge of the score. The glorious Third Act with its Finale is also quite impressive in the 1967 sound.

One would obviously have to have the legendary greats such as the 1971 Karajan (EMI) and the magnificent Guild reissue from the Metropolitan. However, I cannot think of anyone purchasing this set feeling in any way short changed as its price, it also offers a complete libretto and extensive notes. On to ‘Parsifal’ now!

Gerald Fenech


From 1967 comes the Kubelik set. Here I wholeheartedly admire the warmth and naturalness of Kubelik’s music-making, even though the Kubelik reading — more perhaps because of the vocally indulgent qualities of most of Kubelik’s principals than because of Kubelik himself — does not have as universally conversational a quality as some other choice sets, veering more toward the oratorical — though not necessarily in a bad way; and with that special warmth of his, Kubelik more than compensates for bringing a somewhat less conversational quality to this than some others have. Definitely, opt for the ARTS ARCHIVES CD issue, which eclipses all other issues of this item. At the same time, the Kubelik’s place in the discography may have been challenged in certain respects by the ANDANTE Toscanini, but not in all. At the least, the Kubelik is already one of the most satisfying readings I know, and it’s good to have this in decent sound, now that there is the ARTS ARCHIVE CD. Kubelik’s way with the score captures its midsummer feel to perfection, and his principals parallel this inviting approach to what is, after all, a comedy of manners — with heart. Particularly welcome are the refulgent sounds of Gundula Janowitz and Sandor Konya as Eva and Walther. Brigitte Fassbaender’s Magdalene is not far behind them, and Unger still sounds almost as youthful a David as in his earlier reading on Kempe’s second recording (for EMI). The rest of the cast is generally satisfying as well. Stewart’s Sachs is strong and musical and accords well with the sense of humanity of Kubelik’s other principals. There are certain passages he sings beautifully: pages and pages of lively projection of one of the most likable characters in the canon. That counts for a lot. At the same time — this being from a series of live radio broadcasts, albeit without an audience — he gets somewhat fatigued and unsteady by the end of the last act. Also, dipping into the slightly-past-his-prime-but-still-musical Paul Schoeffler on the studio Kna reveals the extent to which a Stewart is not quite as comfortable in his own skin as a truly great Sachs (like a Schoeffler or a Schorr) can be. I find that Stewart’s somewhat hyper (undoubtedly committed) Sachs can sometimes please, sometimes disturb. It is an expressive, richly inflected reading, but when Sachs’s final peroration to Walther founders on one or two unsteady tones, that can take away some of the glow of the finale — some, not all. As it is, his contribution is distinctly more positive than not, simply not ideal. Again, the Toscanini lineup is a useful point of comparison. The supporting performers under Toscanini may not be quite so consistent as Kubelik’s (though never less than respectable), but the critical Sachs/Eva/Walther trio is better balanced in the Toscanini. I do prefer Kubelik’s conducting to a degree, but the overall effect of the Toscanini reflects a surer _artistic_ whole, I feel. That is a headline in itself, since this Kubelik set, purely as a performance, has always seemed one of the finest artistic achievements in the discography anyway — and now, artistically, the Toscanini equals it! Yes, Janowitz and Konya’s peaks in the Kubelik may sparkle even more than Reining and Noort with Toscanini, but Reining and Noort are never less than good. The Kubelik with its better sound is the most revealing and well-prepared reading of the score in stereo. That puts it in a very special niche. No question. Neither the Toscanini, the studio Kna, nor the second Kempe can match the Kubelik combination of a genial way with the score and stereophonic sound. With this recording’s rare combination of both attributes, many find this recording the most enjoyable of all. And sometimes I’m inclined to agree.

Geoffrey Riggs

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Myto, Calig, Arts, OOA, OA, OD, OOA, HO
Technical Specifications
695 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.26 GByte (flac)