Wagner: Meistersinger/Janowski

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

You want to like this beautifully recorded Meistersinger, and there’s nothing really wrong with it: Marek Janowski knows the piece and clearly loves it, and he goes for a transparent, absolutely clear reading; Wagner’s inner voices and superb contrapuntal writing rarely have been clearer. This of course helps to make the outrageous finale to the second act crystal clear, but it also diminishes its effect as a quasi-street riot. I’m not sure how I feel about it: take it as reportage.

The stunningly played and highlighted oboe and cello immediately after the Prelude is the first instance of great detail; such felicities abound. Tempos lean toward quick, but there’s never a sense of rushing, and Sachs’ two big monologues are the still, introspective oases they should be.

Those who like their Meistersinger weighty and truly profound may find Janowski’s reading lightweight. The finale to the first act has a swing to the string section I’ve rarely encountered before; it rocks back and forth and almost makes us forget Walther’s audition. Perhaps this is the point. This was recorded live, in concert, in one take, and as such is remarkably clean. But it is also somewhat earthbound, particularly if you compare it to a recorded stage performance or to a well-produced studio recording. It’s a stand-and-deliver event.

Albert Dohmen’s Sachs is a bit brusque and serious–there’s rarely a smile in his voice–but he brings real warmth to his interactions when it matters and he never tires. The voice lacks the beauty of, say, Thomas Stewart, but is expressive enough; he gives us a full portrait of an introverted man. I prefer Sachs to be more friendly.

You would be hard pressed to find fault with Robert Dean Smith’s Walther either; he sings off the text, and the sound itself is appealing, though without being memorable. The voice does not bloom or soar at the top and this makes the Prize Song worthy rather than thrilling, and memories of other von Stolzings (Kollo, Domingo, Konya) keep popping into my head. Edith Haller is the Eva, and the voice is lovely, distinctive, and able to cut through the orchestra, while her demeanor is invariably charming. Occasionally she sings without vibrato–very odd in this context–and she can sound chilly and sharp when that happens. But she’s delightful.

It’s odd that the heaviest voice is that of the Nightwatchman–a cameo by Matti Salminen. It can’t be accidental casting. Dietrich Henschel’s Beckmesser is a true baritone, light and fleet (and his portrayal is almost loony in its furious self-control), and Tuomas Pursio’s Kothner is so good at coloratura that he might not be out of place in a Bach cantata. Even Georg Zeppenfeld’s Pogner seems somewhat delicate when compared with other recorded Pogners; he is always fatherly but never overbearing or bullying. Peter Sonn’s David is larger voiced than usual but still fluent and Michelle Breedt’s Magdalene is spunky and effective. Orchestra and chorus are close to magnificent.

As suggested, it’s hard to find fault here, but I don’t get the same feeling of a journey through these people’s lives as I get with Kubelik (Arts, and with beautiful voices) or Schippers (Live from the Met, Sony, slightly cut). I’d stick with them and respect Janowski’s work here–but keep my distance.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Kubelik (Arts), Schippers (Sony)

RICHARD WAGNER - Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

  • Albert Dohmen, Georg Zeppenfeld, Tuomas Pursio, Dietrich Hensel, Matti Salminen (bass)
    Robert Dean Smith, Peter Sonn (tenor)
    Edith Haller (soprano)
    Michelle Breedt (mezzo-soprano)
    others
  • Janowski, Marek (conductor)
  • Rundfunk Chor Berlin

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