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Richard Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (conductor: Marek Janowski; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Rundfunkchor Berlin) Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A winning Mesitersinger that more than holds its own with any in the catalogue.

Graham Rogers 2012

This is second release in the ambitious project of conductor Marek Janowski and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra to perform and record all of Wagner's operas together. And judging by the exceptionally high standard of this Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, when finished it will be a cycle to cherish.

Janowski's approach to Wagner, immediately apparent from the majestic but buoyant flourish with which the Meistersinger overture springs into life, is lively and vibrant without losing any of its essential weight or epic scope. There are many classic recordings of this opera, the only one of Wagner’s mature works to be entirely free of tragic doom and gloom, but even the greatest of them – especially those made in the 1970s and 80s – are often characterised by an overbearing, even oppressive swagger that can bog down its joyous spirit. Janowski, in contrast, never imposes any superfluous heaviness on the score; his Meistersinger breathes naturally, brimming with compelling drama and homogenous humour.

He is helped by a superb cast. As Hans Sachs, the rock-solid crux of the dramatis personae, Albert Dohmen exudes commanding authority tempered with avuncular softness, his gloriously rich and mellifluous voice never strained. Peter Sonn's David is one of the most fluent and lyrical accounts ever recorded. Robert Dean Smith cannot match Sonn for tonal beauty, but he has just the right youthful heroic vigour for Walther, demonstrating great stamina and virtuosic agility, especially in his passionate monologue at the heart of Act 2. Edith Haller's relatively light, creamy Eva is delightful, and Dietrich Henschel delivers the right level of comedy for Beckmesser without hamming or crude over-singing. The crowd scenes bristle with energy, nowhere more so than the tumultuous excitement at the end of Act 2. Never hurried, Janowski’s tempi are swifter enough than most to ensure that Acts 1 and 2 each fit complete on single discs – a major plus point.

The recording, made at a public concert performance at the Berlin Philharmonie in June 2011, is excellent – clear and well-spaced, it is faithful to the voices and vividly captures the sumptuous orchestral sound. There is very little audience or stage noise. Handsomely packaged in hard-back book format with complete libretto, this is a winning Mesitersinger that more than holds its own with any in the catalogue.

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