Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Georg Solti
Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
23-27 September 1995
Orchestra Hall Chicago
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsJosé van Dam
Veit PognerRené Pape
Kunz VogelgesangRoberto Sacca
Konrad NachtigallGary Martin
Sixtus BeckmesserAlan Opie
Fritz KothnerAlbert Dohmen
Balthasar ZornJohn Horton Murray
Ulrich EißlingerRichard Byrne
Augustin MoserStephen Tarp
Hermann OrtelKevin Deas
Hans SchwartzStephen Morscheck
Hans FoltzKelly Anderson
Walther von StolzingBen Heppner
DavidHerbert Lippert
EvaKarita Mattila
MagdaleneIris Vermillion
Ein NachtwächterKelly Anderson

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


From 1995, on DECCA/LONDON, we have, in Solti’s second Meistersinger recording, the most consistent trio of principals in any uncut reading since 1937 and Arturo Toscanini. Van Dam’s Sachs may not have the rolling orotund vocal quality of the greatest bass-baritones heard in the part, but Van Dam’s refinement and insight, his sense of the poetic, and, above all, his invariably disciplined shaping of the music, stamp him as one of the fine ones. I recognize this take on my part as not necessarily a prevailing view. Some believe that Van Dam brings out too much of the philosopher/poet at the expense of the cobbler. But I believe that the cobbler is not necessarily short-changed, merely placed in a less conspicuous perspective. (Sometimes, I believe that too many others with the requisite burly tones have inadvertently short-changed the philosopher/poet faaaaaaar too much!!!) And in a way, Van Dam’s emphasis may be thanks to Van Dam’s own intelligence and self-awareness vocally. Recognizing that his tones are not as burly as others, he may have deliberately decided to make Sachs _the_ philosopher of the Mastersingers circle. Of course, Schorr and Schoeffler already do this to an extent (listeners steeped in later and gruffer readings tend to overlook this), but Van Dam is the first to do this so overtly in modern times. And I welcome this as a necessary corrective. The musically disciplined quality in Van Dam is typical of everyone else in the cast. Mattila and Heppner are clearly a bel canto pair of lovers, and one has to wonder whether anyone has ever sung Pogner with more “Golden-Age” sound than Rene Pape. Solti’s reading, though, is the antithesis of the conversational Karajan, of Kempe, what-have-you. This Meistersinger is _serious_, with a high sense of purpose and decorum in all its characters. It is not unfelt at all, but what the characters say here is rarely offhand or intimate in the way we hear from others. These are characters reflecting a consistent aristocracy of spirit that can sometimes be touching and sometimes be distancing. It’s not the way I’d always want to hear the score, but it’s not necessarily wrong for all that. An interesting alternative view, complemented by music-making as superb as we can ever expect to hear. I find it one of the finer sets available, frankly, not least because of the unfailingly musical cast throughout. I also feel that Solti’s unexpectedly lyrical way with the score in his second Meistersinger deserves acknowledgement. However, Solti’s second recording, fine as it is, might not be _the_ one I’d pick. That is primarily because of one particular factor: geniality again. Other readings have more of this elusive quality (while, unfortunately, Solti’s first effort has other far graver defects). Both the studio Knappertsbusch and Kempe’s second set simply capture this more. But the singing on them, especially the Walther, is not as consistent or assured as here. And here, one is grateful to have such consistently fine and “Golden-Age” singing in such state-of-the-art fidelity — for a change!

Geoffrey Riggs

The New York Times

2-Day ‘Meistersinger’ By Chicago Symphony

Purposes were mixed if not always crossed in the Chicago Symphony’s two-part concert presentation of Wagner’s “Meistersinger von Nurnberg” under Georg Solti on Saturday evening and this afternoon at Orchestra Hall. Decca/ London was recording the performance live, as listeners were continually reminded by the profusion of microphones and the presence onstage of a recording producer. He steered the singers from one mike to another and beamed on their work like some benevolent inversion of the character Beckmesser, the rigid enforcer of the Mastersingers’ code.

There were subtler compromises as well. Jose van Dam as Hans Sachs and Karita Mattila as Eva seemed for long stretches to be scaling and molding their performances carefully for the record rather than trying to project to the ,audience. Beckmesser notched no demerits during Walther’s Trial Song, and Sachs hammered no shoes; Mr. van Dam yielded to an onstage percussionist for the clangorous criticism of Beckmesser’s serenade and left his cobbling music unadorned, presumably to be punctuated in the studio.

Still, this affair was infinitely superior in its decorous presentation and musical seriousness to the orchestra’s recorded performances of Verdi’s “Otello”four years ago with Mr. Solti and Luciano Pavarotti, at least as that project was sordidly represented at Carnegie Hall. Certainly there was more at stake here: in contrast to Mr. Pavarotti’s self-indulgent antics, the continued success of Ben Heppner in roles like Walther is crucial to the music world.

Mr. Heppner simply has no peers among helden tenors at the moment. Having recently anchored Wolfgang Sawallisch’s recording of “Meistersinger” on EMI, he worked to similarly brilliant effect here. The metal in his voice was not always purest gold, but his ability to soar over even a Solti-led orchestra with unforced ease afforded thrills time and again. Metropolitan Opera audiences can look forward to his Walther performances in December.

Happily, Mr. van Dam rose to a like level in the final scenes. Even before then, his portrayal often made up in character what it lacked in sheer muscle and projection.

The rest of the cast was generally solid. Rene Pape was particularly strong as Pogner. Alan Opie was hard to dislike as Beckmesser, delivering the role with fine and sturdy tone. Herbert Lippert, once past some callowness in his upper register, was an attractive David.

A slightly worn sound to Ms. Mattila’s voice in Act III today suggested that she may have had other reasons than the recording for holding back in Act II on Saturday. But her work here, as in the role at the Met two years ago, was appealing if not deeply involving. Iris Vermillion made much of the small role of Magdalena.

Mr. Solti, who recorded the work for Decca 20 years ago, professes in a program note to see it from a new perspective: it “should be light, like chamber music, and . . . the orchestra must not dominate the singers.” His approac hindeed sounded different from that of the old Solti, although perhaps for other reasons as well.

The basic character of the orchestra’s playing seems to have changed to some extent, having become less hard-edged and more flexible in the four season ssince Daniel Barenboim replaced Mr. Solti as music director. (Fortunately, the orchestra’s chorus, under Duain Wolfe, still bears the strong imprint of its former director, Margaret Hillis.) In addition, Mr. Solti, at 82, may be less able or less inclined to impose the iron discipline of yore.

Indeed, the performance was surprisingly, sometimes refreshingly, loose-limbed. The strings were anything but monolithic, with frequent spread in attacks, releases and pizzicatos. They have also shed some of their former glassy tone in favor of greater warmth.

Not that this was in any sense a pastoral “Meistersinger.” Welling surges in the orchestra were often forced into climaxes. And Mr. Solti showed flashes of his old spirit, whether appropriate or not, with fiercely precise final chords in Acts II and III.

An outsider might have assumed that these concerts, with their formidable star power, would have sold out long ago. In fact, the turnout was indifferent, with the parquet looking less than half full today. Citing sales figures of 85 to 90 percent of capacity for this performance and the one to follow on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, the orchestra’s management seemed to be straining for the best possible light.

True, the performances mingle closely with the Jewish High Holy Days, and”Meistersinger” is curious fare for the occasion, with its blatant German nationalism, latent anti-Semitism and close identification with the Third Reich. Then again, Chicagoans may simply be taking a sensible approach to what is, after all, basically a series of recording sessions, and waiting for the CD’s.

JAMES R. OESTREICH | September 26, 1995

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Media Type/Label
Decca, London
Technical Specifications
655 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 1,12 GByte (flac)
Concert performances