Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Reginald Goodall
Chorus and Orchestra of the Saddler’s Wells Opera
Date/Location
10 February 1968
Saddler’s Wells Opera London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
Hans SachsNorman Bailey
Veit PognerNoël Mangin
Kunz VogelgesangDavid Kane
Konrad NachtigallJulian Mogle
Sixtus BeckmesserDerek Hammond-Stroud
Fritz KothnerDavid Bowman
Balthasar ZornDavid Brecknock
Ulrich EißlingerDavid Morton-Gray
Augustin MoserLouis Browne
Hermann OrtelJames Singleton
Hans SchwartzGerwyn Morgan
Hans FoltzEric Stannard
Walther von StolzingAlberto Remedios
DavidGregory Dempsey
EvaMargaret Curphey
MagdaleneAnn Robson
Ein NachtwächterStafford Dean
Gallery
Reviews
Gramophone

How happy one would be with this set in a competition-less world but other recorded maestros delve more profoundly into the text and theatricality of this score than Haitink chooses to do. One such is Reginald Goodall, whose 1968 Sadler’s Wells performance(s) – legendary at least in British memory – has finally reached an official release on Chandos in Sir Peter Moores’s Opera in English series. Here is one legend which hits the light of day as brightly as it shone 40 years ago. Goodall’s understanding of what every beat of this score means, and his successful communication of that to his personally trained cast, is a thing of wonder. Climaxes (end of Act 1, the riot, the quintet etc) are immense; timers may tell us it’s slow, but the pulse never flags.

Goodall’s Walther, Alberto Remedios, once said that when he played Caruso’s records at home he forgot to go out. The same compliment might be paid to this singer when he starts ‘Am stillen Herd’, or tells Sachs his morning dream in three parts, or delivers the prize song with a dream mixture of Italianate tone and line and German lyrical weight. OK, it’s in English, and a rather quaint English – but it has to be heard. So does Norman Bailey’s Sachs. He is a noble humanist, free (even in the gulling of Beckmesser) of petty concerns and stirred as opposed merely to being moody in yielding Evchen to Walther. His seamless delivery of the ‘Flieder’ monologue, natural authority in the ‘Ein Kind war geboren’ sequence and striking of the right blend of admonishment and advice in ‘Verachtet mir die Meister nicht’ all represent work on a Friedrich Schorr/Hans Hotter level. And, together with Goodall, Margaret Curphey makes Eva’s predicaments and love always real rather than simply coy.

The plentiful laughter that can be heard is due to both the sharp theatrical pointing of Goodall’s conducting and to the Eric Morecambe-like ability of Derek Hammond-Stroud’s Beckmesser to be genuinely funny just by appearing. Hammond-Stroud’s is a masterly comic performance at the other end of the pole to Allen’s – but equally valid.

One can understand non-Anglophone readers smiling whimsically but this Chandos release genuinely becomes one of the miracles of the current Wagner discography.

ClassicalSource.com

How does one approach and respond to a performance that has passed into operatic legend; one spoken of in awed hushed whispers by those who saw it (and probably by many that didn’t!)? This is a recording (now issued in Chandos’s “Opera in English” series) of the production that by received wisdom, set Sadler’s Wells Opera on its way to morphing into English National Opera (in 1974). For many years rumours have abounded about copies of the broadcast tapes lurking in archives, and not appearing commercially because of contractual complications. One could, if one was cynical, have suspected that this was a screen to hide the fact that perhaps the performance was not all it was cracked up to be. Yet, finally, here it is, and indeed proves to be something out of the ordinary.

Reginald Goodall (1901-90, he was knighted in 1985) was a conductor whose Wagnerian successes depended very much on his being allowed a substantial amount of rehearsal time with the orchestra and coaching time with his singers. That the UK has for many years now produced many excellent Wagnerian singers of stature is almost certainly a result of his work at Sadler’s Wells and ENO all those decades ago.

As can be heard here Goodall (affectionately known as ‘Reggie’) was also remarkably singer sensitive. His interpretations were famous (or infamous) for their expansiveness but also for their overall sense of musical architecture. Both characteristics are very evident here. Goodall’s rendition of the ‘Prelude to Act One’ is available in a 1974 performance coupled with Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony on a BBC Legends release). The tempos here are probably slower than even the most indulgent of current Wagner conductors would permit themselves, and at first one thinks that it is too slow, but one quickly settles into the pulse and then one hardly notices. The second adjective used to describe Goodall’s interpretation is probably ‘weighty’. Despite “Mastersingers” being a comedy this is an interpretation that is very much on the grandiose side – and it that sense it builds up to Act Three rather steadily and some of the wit of Act Two seems somewhat suppressed perhaps with that very aim in mind.

Norman Bailey as Hans Sachs. ©Reg Wilson The sound on these Chandos CDs is not always as clear and bright as it might be and is at times distinctly muffled. But nonetheless there is much to relish both orchestrally and especially vocally. Norman Bailey’s Hans Sachs is known from his Decca recording (in German) under Georg Solti. Here Bailey’s warm, genial baritone and keen intelligence give us a Sachs of great humanity and humour, one generously indulgent of the natures of all around him. His monologues are imbued with this sense and are impeccably sung and his final words on the sanctity and value of (German) Art are impassioned. Every word of the text is crystal clear – as it is with every other singer of the cast.

Indeed, this recording provides an object-lesson in singing the English language – the singers at today’s ENO should take note! Alas this very clarity brings out what some may find to be a deterrent to listening to this version on a regular basis, namely the rather overly literal over-poetic translation of Wagner’s arcane language by Frederick Jameson, even in its revision by Feasey and Kember. One is nowadays rather used to translations in a more modern idiom. One can argue of course that it sets the language that Wagner himself wrote, but it makes these ‘normal’ people (the most normal in all Wagner) sound rather fussy and pretentious.

Alberto Remedios (Walther von Stolzing) with Margaret Curphey (Eva). ©Reg Wilson Then you have the tenors. Alberto Remedios as Walther von Stolzing sings this difficult music simultaneously tirelessly, heroically and ardently, and makes his romantic outbursts passages of pure aural delight and sounding almost Italianate. What with this and his portrayal of Siegfried in Goodall’s ‘Ring’ it is curious that his international career in the Wagner repertoire was actually rather limited. We were lucky to have him. Gregory Dempsey makes David more of a forceful character than normal and sings in a rounder bigger tenor than we are now accustomed to.

Derek Hammond-Stroud (Sixtus Beckmesser). ©Reg Wilson Margaret Curphey is a silvery voiced and womanly rather than girlish Eva, who makes the most of all her big moments and gives the young lover her due as an appealing heroine. Derek Hammond-Stroud’s Beckmesser was a famous interpretation and it is well sung and pointed verbally, particularly in his asides, but it is perhaps a tad obvious. Other singers such as Hermann Prey and Thomas Allen have since shown that you can make this character more subtle and humorous by underplaying the inherent bitterness and pettiness. However, he gets the majority of the many laughs from the audience in the theatre. One also notices the presence of the young Stafford Dean as the Nightwatchman. The other part that registers strongly is that of Pogner, sung by Noel Mangin. He was a singer with a truly rich, firm and resonant bass, who managed to catch the dilemma of the older father trying to do the best by everyone probably better than most.

The chorus sounds slightly under-populated but the sense that this was a Company ensemble on the up is palpable. There is a sense of excitement and theatricality that just blazes from the speakers. Thus, as a historic document this recording is of enormous value and importance and, provided you can live with the translation, it will bear enjoyable repeat listening.

Alexander Campbell

Classics Today

In early 1968 Sadler’s Wells mounted an English-language production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger that not only met with high critical and public acclaim but also established Reginald Goodall’s reputation as a Wagner conductor. BBC Radio aired the February 10, 1968 performance. Its first “official” release sounds light years better than pirated versions I’ve encountered in the tape underground and in newsgroups. However, a few editorial details warrant attention.

The annotations do not mention certain cuts in the score, although a few of these are “patched in” from the uncut September 1968 revival (also broadcast by BBC)–Act 3’s orchestral interlude, for example. Chandos also draws upon the later source for the Act 1 Prelude, presumably due to its superior sonics and orchestral execution. Chandos ought to have come clean about these emendations.

Wagner mavens will find much to savor. The superbly focused and well-characterized choral contributions reflect Goodall’s intensive rehearsals on a positive note, while the soloists’ diction largely renders the accompanying libretto superfluous. Goodall’s slow tempos work best in regard to the natural ebb and flow with which the numerous conversational scenes are articulated (Act 3’s first scene and roll call of the Masters, Act 2’s central episode with Eva and Sachs). At the same time, set pieces such as Walther’s two songs and the famous Act 3 Quintet might be defined as “slow motion minus the motion”, and die on the vine with little sense of a strong, underlying pulse and shapely line. Still, splendid singing abounds. Alberto Remidios’ sweet toned, effortlessly lyrical Walther and Gregory Dempsey’s slightly dry yet irrepressibly engaging David complement each other, as do Derek Hammond-Stroud’s strongly acted and beautifully sung Beckmesser alongside Norman Bailey’s Sachs. Although Bailey’s expressive palette opens up more for his studio version with Solti (in German), here he’s in fresher voice. Soprano Margaret Curphey’s Eva improves with each act, and it’s refreshing to hear a lighter mezzo (Ann Robson) as Magdalene. As Pogner, Noel Mangin’s commanding presence may well be this cast’s strongest asset. The Nightwatchman’s few lines gorgeously showcase bass Stafford Dean early in his career. There’s more than enough memorable vocalism to consider this release as a supplement alongside my reference Meistersinger recordings.

Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 6

Jed Distler

MusicWeb-International.com

Stereotypes exist because they relate to some reality, even if they lack nuance, tact and are misleading when we fail to distinguish between sweeping claims and individual instances.

Applied to musicians they can attain a life of their own, especially the negative ones coloring our perceptions before we’ve even heard the artist in question. Maurizio Pollini is a “cold” pianist, Lang Lang shallow, Pierre Boulez an ‘analytical’, fast, and emotionless conductor, Hans Knappertsbusch invariably slow, Herbert von Karajan slick and polished.

Pollini can be coolly technical on some recordings. But he’s just as likely involving and dazzling in concert. Boulez conducts Wagner slower than Sawallisch or Kraus, and some of his Mahler recordings are among the most charged and fervent. Even Karajan occasionally allowed for grit and Lang Lang has delivered concerts and recordings that go well beyond the notes and sheer facility.

The stereotype about Sir Reginald Goodall, the very English conductor of German repertoire, is that he is very, very slow. Judging only from his recordings, this is not just a stereotype, it’s the plain truth. His Mastersingers performance, thanks to Sir Peter Moores for the first time available on CD, starts with an in-cred-i-bly slow overture. From there, these Mastersingers – just minutes shy of five hours! – proceed slow generally, sometimes to wonderful effect, sometimes without the slothfulness being bothersome, and sometimes making matters garrulous. But there are also surprisingly lively moments in between – or are they perhaps just moments of normal tempos that seem lively amid the rest?

There are plenty of stage noises in this live recording from 1968, but not so intrusive that they disturb. A little disturbing is the applause after the quintet (because the curtain descends) – which is then belatedly hissed down. What makes this set interesting to Wagnerians, even outside English-speaking countries, are the fine voices so well caught, even if the sound quality isn’t all that great – too muffled, for one. Goodall had an eye and ear for promising young British singers and he championed them through his entire career. The cast he assembled for the Mastersingers is one of young, yet old-fashioned sounding singers. If you compare this with Karl Böhm’s Bayreuth live recording from the same year with Waldemar Kmentt, Theo Adam, and Gwyneth Jones – on average a few years older than their British colleagues – you will find the latter present a much more modern style of Wagner singing.

But old-fashioned doesn’t mean ‘bad’ at all, and Norman Bailey (Sachs), Derek Hammond-Stroud (Beckmesser), Alberto Remedios (Stolzing), Margaret Curphey (Eva), and Gregory Dempsey (David) make for a terrific ensemble of strong, carefully enunciating voices superior to many in more famous recordings. It culminates in the very nice and nicely recorded nightwatchman of Stafford Dean. He’s got a terrific voice and sings most melodiously.

“Die Meistersinger” in English works – as does the Ring – surprisingly well. Since I’ve heard and liked the Ring, I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me. It’s easier to understand, even for German native speakers, than most recordings in German are. The translation (Frederick Jameson, revised by Norman Feasey and Gordon Kember) is terrific and has only two, three moments that compare obviously negatively with the original.

The stage-action during the Volksfest is a hoot, a boisterous and raucous affair, realistic to the point of challenging the music. It’s excellently done: from the midst of noisy carousing arises the choir – and the exclamations of “Silentium!” really make dramatic sense. It’s a choir very charmingly engaged with all they’ve got, including early entries.

Listening to meaningful opera in the original language is hugely overrated. Authenticity is worth little when it comes at the cost of incomprehension. In opera houses and on DVDs, the solution of super- and sub-titles offers a working compromise. But on CD it’s nicer to comprehend something while listening, rather than arduously trying to follow the action by reading a multi-language libretto in minuscule print. This is not supposed to be an argument to replace all your recordings of non-Italian operas – better off not understanding the text of Il Turco, I say – with versions done in your vernacular (not likely available, anyway). It is however to suggest that this recording being in English need not be seen as a detriment when it can be a bonus. In any case the singing is so fine and the interpretation has so many neat moments that, at least for me, it ranks with a good handful of the most desirable versions: Kubelik, Sawallisch, Solti II, Böhm 1968, Karajan 1970.

Jens F. Laurson

Rating
(7/10)
User Rating
(4.7/5)
Media Type/Label
Chandos
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Technical Specifications
623 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.23 GByte (flac)
Remarks
Broadcast (BBC)
Sung in English
A production by Glen Byam Shaw and John Blatchley