WAGNER Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Kubelik
There could be no more fitting memorial to Kubelik than the appearance of this, probably the most all-round satisfying Meistersinger in the era of stereo. It has circulated on an ‘unofficial’ label for a while now, but this is the first time it has become generally available. The reasons why it was originally held back from release are mysterious. It was recorded in 1967 by Bavarian Radio to mark the work’s centenary the following year (it was broadcast appropriately enough on Midsummer’s Day), apparently in co-operation with DG, but allegedly a dispute over an important piece of casting prevented it being issued at the time it was made. The loss for Wagner lovers all these years has been a severe one.
Kubelik conducts an unforced, loving interpretation, showing a gratifying grasp of overall structure, matching Kempe in those respects. At the time it was broadcast, the German critic Karl Schumann rightly commented on Kubelik’s “irresistible combination of intellect and passion”. As a whole the reading has an unobtrusive cohesion achieved within flexible tempos 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 Symphony forces with whom he made so many successful recordings. This one was committed to disc in Munich’s Herkulessaal, the venue for the most recent EMI recording (Sawallisch). Even more than there, this one catches the excellent acoustic of the hall, which contributes to the spacious, natural results, the soloists well forward, making it as resplendent as any recorded version of this opera.
Fortunately there is a cast at hand willing and able to respond to Kubelik’s mastery. 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, one on a par with Adam’s reading for Karajan’s second version, at Dresden (7/88) but more steadily sung, and bettered only by Paul Schoeffler on older, mono versions conducted by Knappertsbusch (Decca, 10/94), Abendroth (Preiser, 2/94) and Bohm (Preiser, 6/95) – and then only because the senior baritone has bass resonances not available to Stewart. Konya is simply the most winning Walther on any set, superseding Sawallisch’s excellent Heppner by virtue of a greater ardour in his delivery and Kempe’s admirable Schock because he has the more pleasing voice. Konya pours out consistently warm, clear tone, his tenor hovering ideally between the lyric and the heroic. In this highly demanding role he never comes under strain and manages also to be poetic. What more can one ask? Nor are there many better Evas than the young Janowitz, certainly none with a lovelier voice. Scheppan on the 1943 Bayreuth version (Preiser, 2/94), Schwarzkopf for Karajan (9/90) and Grummer for Kempe may achieve a greater intensity of phrase (as at the start of the Quintet) but Janowitz is very nearly their equal.
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. As in his two previous assumptions of the role (the first Karajan and Kempe), 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 my first choice among stereo versions, superseding even the second Karajan because Kubelik’s cast is superior.'