Saturday, July 15, 2006

A "New" Reiner Meistersinger: Conducting "Ja," singing mostly "Nein"

At the end of the Entrance of the Meistersinger in Act III of Orfeo's recent first authorized issue of Fritz Reiner's 1955 Vienna State Opera performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger, the audience goes wild, almost stopping the show--extended cheering and applause...frankly, I've rarely heard anything like it. While I still think the greatest performance of this scene I've ever heard was Furtwaengler at Bayreuth in 1943, Reiner's orchestra (the VPO) is superior--the brass is especially magnificent, and we all know what Reiner could do with brass. It's one of my favorite scenes in all opera, and while Furtwaengler's is one of the most thrilling things I've ever heard in a live performance, Reiner runs a very respectable second.

Unfortunately, the singing is variable throughout. Paul Schoeffler's Sachs (though not at his best vocally) and (especially) Gottlob Frick's Pogner are both superb (this may be one of the finest pieces of work in Frick's recorded legacy--he sings with great intelligence, and is in his absolute vocal prime). Irmgard Seefried's Eva is very fine if a tad lightweight, and Hans Beirer's Walther (pun intended) is unbearable; the rest are a decidedly mixed bag. Rosette Anday's Magdalene is awful--almost ruining the performance at times, and the chorus--so central to this work--is not at its best; a bit sloppy.

Paul Schoeffler as Hans Sachs

The sound--another one of those excellent 1955 Vienna festival tapings--is vivid and alive, almost miraculous, given the date. (Rule out Furtwaengler only because of the singing [which, all told, is really better than the Reiner] and the missing Quintet, not the sound. M&A has rendered it more than listenable--it's stunning for a 1943 tape [and yes, it is tape].)


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ring Musings

I've got an unreasonable affection for the Böhm Ring which perhaps relates to imprinting: it was my first Ring back in the days when Philips had cut out the LP's for $3.49 a disc--a godsend for a student. Not only are the sonics--particularly on vinyl--among the best of all Ring recordings (and to my ear superior to the Keilberth), but the singing is of a uniformly high standard. Yes, there are exceptions: Rysanek is in not particularly good vocal form in Walküre, and oldies like Mödl, Windgassen and Greindl have their rough and ready moments. Still, it's hard to get everything right in a piece as vast as the Ring, and while Böhm's conducting can be prosaic, this one makes as good a case for the work as most.

I've thus far invested in only the Siegfried from the Keilberth. (And let me assure you that after a long and diligent search, I haven't been able to find it more cheaply than at MDT.) The only problem I have with the sonics, which are otherwise superb, is that the stereo stage is annoyingly narrow. Whether this jibes with the actual Festspielhaus acoustics I do not know, but it doesn't make for particularly grand or enveloping stereo reproduction.

A disaster recently forced me to re-purchase the '56 Kna Ring, this time on Orfeo, after owning it on M&A. The sound--still mono--is very noticeably improved, with more low end and more resonance. A much greater pleasure to listen to than before, and a better buy than the Keilberth, my only real objection is the conducting of Kna, which can at times be so slow as to practically grind to a halt.

I'm still waiting for a good-sounding issue of the Solti Ring. Should it be issued (as rumored) in their new Originals series, which has produced some stunning dubs (like the Price/Karajan Tosca and the Britten War Requiem--the latter of which is a slightly earlier transfer), we might finally have a CD issue worthy of the recording.