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Reviews for Die Meistersinger Met 1936 | IPCD 1035-3
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Reviews for IPCD 1035-3


• Artur Bodansky, cond; Elisabeth Rethberg (Eva); Karin Branzell (Magdalene); René Maison (Walther); Hans Clemens (David); Friedrich Schorr (Sachs); Eduard Habich (Beckmesser); Emanuel List (Pogner); Julius Huehn (Kothner); Arnold Gabor (Night Watchman)

Metropolitan Orchestra and Chorus, 2 February 1936


Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine,
May/June 2014

Avid Wagnerians might recognize this performance as one that has already been issued courtesy of Richard Caniell, then on Guild (2244/7). There, the opera was spread over four discs with some mouth-watering appendices (“Schorr as Hans Sachs” with excerpts conducted by Albert Coates, Leo Blech, Robert Heger, and Barbirolli).

Tidying up means that the cut opera is now issued on three discs with no extras. There is no doubt that the vocals are more natural than in Caniell’s earlier release. This is due to a “breakthrough” (Caniell’s word) in 2011 in which he manages to dissolve some of the electronic overlays. The voices, in particular, benefit, although the orchestra does as well. It is not a miracle cure, however: It remains an AM broadcast, and particularly in the Riot Scene this is evident. There is no doubt as to the improvements though, as an A/B comparison conclusively revealed. The Overture to act I in the Immortal Performances release is in far better sound than one would credit for 1936. The buzzing woodwinds are a particular delight, more overtly comedic in the new transfer than on Guild, and counterpoint comes through clearer. There is still no getting away from a sort of acoustic “splat” that occurs at the sudden entrance of the chorus right at the end of the Overture, a sort of sudden acoustic withdrawing.

Distortion on the Immortal Performances issue is absolutely minimized, and the sound on the Guild seems a touch drier. The opening of act II, that celebration of happiness and youth, is all the more joyous in the new issue, while the solemnity of the Prelude to act III is all the more sonorous (this portion of the score also heralds some of Bodansky’s finest conducting). At the lower dynamic levels the excellent chorus of apprentices has more presence; Emanuel List’s Pogner has a creamily full tone, but it is to Sach’s Fliedermonolog, surely, that all ears go. Here, Schorr’s marvellously full yet focused voice seems perfectly in step with Wagner’s intentions, and in the new transfer one can really follow the perfectly sculpted phrases without interruption. His Wahnmonolog, too, is heard with new clarity. It is important to note that in the new incarnation of this Meistersinger it is much less a case of the ear valiantly adjusting to the sonics. Detail is more immediately audible, without doubt, and altogether the experience is more comfortable.

Just as important is the reproduction of the female voices, especially when a document of Elisabeth Rethberg’s Eva is at stake. While this might be preaching to the converted, it is still worthwhile restating that Rethberg was one of the great Evas (in fact she seemed to turn just about everything she touched to vocal gold). The good news is that there are moments here when the background is all but silent. There is a slight amount of color on Rethberg’s high register, but it is not off-putting, and her scene with Sachs in the central act is gripping. Karin Branzell provides a lovely complement to her in the role of Madalene. Maison’s Walther sounds even more youthful freed (to an extent) from some of the mists of time; his act III “Morgenlich leuchtet” is magnificent, the voice still confident and heroic at this late stage in the piece.

Arnold Gabor’s Nightwatchman is solid, Habich’s Beckmesser wonderfully amusing. Huehn’s Kothner is not always entirely accurate, but Hans Clemens’s David is clearly the result of much familiarity with this part.

Caniell’s documentation outlines some of the problems of this set and Bodansky’s version of the score, which included so many cuts that even Caniell balks at listing them all. It is worthwhile noting that Schorr’s 1931 Victor disc (Vic 768) of the uncut “Euch macht ihr’s licht” appears as part of the improvement process. All of this is part of the territory in issues such as this of course, and something one has to accept in the listening experience. Not all intrusive noise can be eradicated, certainly, but even in the noisier sections (e.g., with Pogner around track 7 on CD 1) things feel better. The sound copes better with the louder moments overall, enabling the work’s final choral paean to Holy German Art to make a deeper impression on the listener.

Documentation, as always from the source, is both detailed and fascinating. Caniell’s enthusiasm is ever infectious. It is worthwhile stating that this improved version of the Bodansky 1936 Meistersinger, with its outstanding cast, is a must for all serious Wagnerians, and that this incarnation is now beyond doubt the one to have.


• Artur Bodansky, cond; Elisabeth Rethberg (Eva); Karin Branzell (Magdalene); René Maison (Walther); Hans Clemens (David); Friedrich Schorr (Sachs); Eduard Habich (Beckmesser); Emanuel List (Pogner); Julius Huehn (Kothner); Arnold Gabor (Night Watchman)

Metropolitan Orchestra and Chorus, 2 February 1936

James Miller
FANFARE magazine,
May/June 2014

Having favored us with a 1939 Met Meistersinger with Friedrich Schorr as Hans Sachs, Immortal Performances now takes us back three years, when the celebrated bass-baritone was 47 years old and in even better voice than he was in 1939 when he was 50. To be sure, the half-century mark need not mean disaster for a singer who treats his or her voice with consideration, but Schorr had been singing heavier Wagner roles like Wotan for a long time and, while he was still pretty imposing in 1939, he’s even better here in 1936. His mellow voice has what one listener called a “paternal” quality; he projects a kind of humane authority and the wisdom of experience. When Sachs gives voice to his thoughts, he sings more softly and still can be heard. It helps that Artur Bodansky, the conductor, obligingly suppresses the orchestra’s volume. Bodansky, whom I have sometimes accused of being an impatient, hard-driving Wagnerian, is anything but that in this performance—he often expands the tempo for emphasis and never seems to be pushing his cast along, instead supporting them with supple rhythm, and warm sonority … and listen to those string portamentos in the Prelude to act III! He does make a good many “theater cuts,” though, if that matters.

I have heard some “historic” performances by Elisabeth Rethberg that made me wonder where her great reputation came from but here, no question, she uses her beautiful lyric soprano to great effect—she’s a dream Eva, who is not without some spunk. In the 1939 performance, Charles Kullman is a terrific Walther, his voice soaring through the part; here, the would-be mastersinger is René Maison, who, if he doesn’t exactly soar through the music, is strong enough to hold his own in this company. His voice often seems to take on a “pleading” quality, which is certainly right for scene one, where he meets Eva outside of church. As Magdalene, Karin Branzell is better than the norm. As for the Pogner, Emanuel List, I have my usual reaction, sometimes admiring and sometimes disappointed, sometimes in the same performance. He’s ineffectual in his act I appearance but very eloquent in act II when he’s meditating aloud. At least I’m thankful that Eduard Habich doesn’t turn Beckmesser into a baritonal Mime, but otherwise he’s a merely a middling Beckmesser. We get a good bit of Milton Cross’s post-act patter, which also “authenticates” the performance as well as giving the broadcast atmosphere. This performance is almost as old as I am and, yes, there is some surface noise and distortion, but people who love recordings that are “historic” or merely old have learned to “listen through” such distractions, often to the point where they disappear. If this were, say, a 1956 recording, it might well be many people’s favorite Meistersinger. The 46-page booklet contains no libretto but does include a detailed plot synopsis and, as usual for this producer, profuse annotations.

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