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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Hans Sachs – Hans Hotter
Walther von Stolzing – Günther Treptow
Eva – Annelies Kupper
David – Paul Kuen
Magdalena – Ruth Michaelis
Pogner – Max Proebstl
Beckmesser – Benno Kusche
Chor und Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper / Eugen Jochum
rec. live in mono at the Bayerischen Staatsoper, Munich, 10th December 1949
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO145 [4 CDs: 256:45]

The artwork on this CD leaves you in no doubt as to the main draw of this live Meistersinger: the Sachs of Hans Hotter.

Hotter is surely the greatest Wagnerian bass-baritone to have been preserved in the recording era. His Wotan and Gurnemanz set the standard that others aspire to, and his Kurwenal and Marke reveal new depths of character and insight. Hans Sachs is a role that was oddly missing from his core repertoire, however, something that this release’s liner notes explain was due to an acute vocal crisis in 1950 that was so bad that it led to him being left out of the cast list for the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival in 1951. That led to a reconsidering of which roles he took on, and Sachs seems to have been one that fell away in consequence. He did sing it at Bayreuth in 1956, but he was so unhappy with his performance that he convinced Wieland Wagner to wipe the master tape of the recording, and the only preservation of it we now have is of an off-air tape.

That lends this 1949 performance special value, as it’s almost the only record we have of him in this role. True, it doesn’t sound like a natural fit for him, and I was left wondering how he would have developed into the part if he had given himself more time and space with it. However, he still sounds totally at ease in it, lending colour to the ensembles and already owning the setpieces. The Fliedermonolog is delightful, for example – relaxed, broad, unhurriedly contemplative – while the Wahnmonolog shows masterly depths of insight. His subsequent dialogue with Walther is full of insight and comradeship as he takes Walther into his confidence during the explanation of the Masters’ art. He also sounds marvellous after the chorus of Wach auf, deeply moved by the recognition they give him. True, he does sound rather worn out by the final monologue, regularly breaking the line to snatch a breath, but he’s still remarkably humane and full of sympathy.

The other major point of interest in this release is Jochum’s conducting, which is really very different to that of his 1976 studio recording for DG. Here it’s much more of-a-piece, controlling the opera in one great span as it unfurls. Broadly his tempi are slower, most obviously in the Act 3 Prelude, but he is already a master of the score’s unfolding mysteries. True, he loses control of the overall structure in Act 3, with some unnecessary speeding up and broadening out, but overall his is a sound interpretation, and it’s fascinating to compare it with his later version.

The rest of the cast are perfectly fine, if unremarkable in the light of the competition. Günther Treptow’s Walther is heroic, though rather intrusively so, and it’s a performance that is fine in places but overall inconsistent. He turns up the lyricism for the Prizesong, for example, but then barks out its final iteration rather unappealingly. Next to him Annelies Kupper’s Eva is sweet and conducive, while Benno Kusche’s Beckmesser is straightforwardly fine, if a little stereotypical.

The recorded sound is up to Pristine’s usual very high standard. It’s a really successful remastering, cleaning up the original so that the voices sound pretty clear against the backdrop of the instruments. Often, indeed, you could fool yourself into thinking that you were hearing some (admittedly very primitive) early stereo, which is a testament to the skills of remasterer Andrew Rose and his team. Unavoidably, the crowd scenes sound rather cluttered, and it’s very irritating that they cheer endlessly over the entry of masters in Act 3, but there’s nothing that anybody can do about that.

This is a curiosity, therefore, but if you care about Hotter’s Sachs then it’s indispensable: a tantalising memento of what might have been.

Simon Thompson




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