Meistersinger on Disc
the Strongest Entries


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The Assoluta Voice in Opera, 1797 - 1847 NEW BOOK






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--Geoffrey Riggs

Part I -- Top ten:

Out of roughly thirty readily available Meistersingers, there are now, I feel, ten competitive entries.

[in chronological order]

1. In 1936, from MUSIC & ARTS, we have a "live" Met broadcast, featuring Friedrich Schorr, Elisabeth Rethberg and Rene Maison, under Artur Bodanzky. This is a lively, thoroughly engaging performance with vivid characterizations and wonderful singing throughout. Schorr's warm, consoling vocal "face" for this role, his always lively imagination and mercurial projection of the character's many moods, plus his caressing vocalism and ever-alert sense of poetry, place his Sachs in a class by itself. One feels one is privy to Wagner's own imagination in Schorr's reading. A treasure, which we are highly privileged to hear nearly seventy years after it took place! The rest of the principals are nearly at the same exalted level, and Bodanzky's conducting is keen and taut. The cons here are fair sound only and dozens of cuts in the performing edition the Met was using at the time.

2. In 1937, from ANDANTE, there is the Toscanini set, which has the advantage of almost as strong a cast as in #1 and is heard in significantly better sound. It is a transfer from a film sound strip(!) (alas, no cameras were there) of the 1937 Salzburg production. I have heard some perfectly horrendous-sounding transfers of this performance on LP -- and CD, I believe? -- but Ward Marston and Seth Winner have now done an amazing job of taking the original strip, once and for all, and restoring it beautifully. No, it's not real high fidelity, and it's in mono, of course. But it now sounds like the sound track of a reasonably decent and professionally made Hollywood movie from the 1930s (think Gone with the Wind or Wizard of Oz) -- astonishing, when you think about it. There is, for the first time, real space and dynamic range in this recording, and I now find I can respond to it as if I were sitting right there in the auditorium rather than merely picking my way through a series of inchoate sounds. There are places where this new restoration of the Toscanini reminds me of early 1950s mono! But enough moments of distortion still crop up from time to time to remind one of just how unusual and improvised this preservation of true opera history really is. Comparing it to some '50s mono sets, the top three principals of the second Kempe are not as consistent as in the Toscanini, while the overall cohesiveness of the second Kempe is still superb enough nevertheless to warrant its being placed in the very front rank of the top five available Meistersingers. At the same time, the Knappertsbusch/Shoeffler set has that same cohesiveness, but its surprisingly constricted sound (for its period) actually defers to this new Toscanini issue at isolated moments, while its principals reach occasional peaks not heard in the Toscanini lineup, but still offset by inequalities not present in the Toscanini. At the very least, the Toscanini, with its occasionally-as-good sound and generally more consistent cast, deserves equal consideration. It is now a central entry, thanks to Marston's and Winner's diligence. The critical Sachs/Eva/Walther trio of Hans Hermann Nissen/Maria Reining/Henk Noort is consistent and sure in the Toscanini, and Toscanini's own conducting complements that strength. Reining and Noort are never less than good, while Nissen seems at ease in Sachs's skin, even though he may not have the haunting autumnal insights of the greatest in this part. Best of all, unlike many Wagner performances from this period, this performance is uncut. The ANDANTE release is a luxury offering with in-depth articles and a full libretto with translation. Another useful point of comparison here would be the Solti II (see below): like the Solti II, this Toscanini entry also has a flawlessly musical cast throughout, while Toscanini has, in addition, that knack of capturing all of the score's geniality that (just) eludes Solti (sometimes). Thus, as a performance, it has all the artistic virtues of Solti II and then some(!), though not the superb engineering of Solti II, this being a (however well restored) 1937 recording, not a state-of-the-art 1995 CD. The comparison with Solti remains apt, since Solti "cut his teeth" as an assistant conductor at the Salzburg Festival under Toscanini. Solti inherited Toscanini's musical discipline, if not all his sunny spirit.

3. In the early '40s, under Abendroth, we have a lively performance featuring the other great Sachs, Paul Schoeffler, in his absolute prime. Most of the other principals, including the underrecorded Hilde Scheppan as Eva, sound fine as well. This is also in good sound. If you find it hard to enjoy Schorr's Sachs in compromised sound and with performance cuts, then here's a chance to enjoy uncut the entire work with a fine Sachs, Paul Schoeffler, in his absolute prime, who also dominates with almost as lively and beautiful an interpretation as anything you hear in Schorr. Enjoying Sachs's music in this way, uncut and in good sound, places this set in a class of its own. Where I find this one wanting -- and some may demur -- is in Ludwig Suthaus's Walther. It is clear that Suthaus is still in his youthful prime, but I find the role a bad fit. However fresh his instrument, too much of the high-lying music emerges in an effortful manner, and heard through two or more playings, this can sometimes cast a pall over continued enjoyment of the performance as a whole -- for me, anyway. Another aspect that sometimes bothers me a bit less, although I deeply respect and can readily understand those who might find it much more troubling, is the period and country in which this performance takes place: Nazi Germany. For some, this aspect can make people's blood run cold. And I can't say I'm ready to blame them. Ultimately, though, it is tenor inadequacies that relegate this to being merely a strong entry rather than one of the very best.

4. In 1949, in a broadcast performance available only on specialty labels, we have, from Munich, one of the liveliest readings of all, conducted by Jochum in peak form. (This is distinct from Jochum's studio-made recording made many years later for DG in the '70s.) Hans Hotter leads the cast. His Sachs may be the most insightful of all, but while vocally assured elsewhere, he becomes uneven in the last scene, showing evident fatigue. Treptow is heard in his absolute prime, and I must say I enjoy his usually musical and well-interpreted Walther. No question his is not the bright easy kind of tenor best heard in this role. But I rarely find him off-putting here (the way I do Suthaus). Kupper's Eva, though, I do -- find off-putting, that is. An entirely unsympathetic vocal "face", registering far too much effort in one of the most deftly written roles Wagner ever conceived. What a shame. Jochum's reading is delightful and deserves an article in itself! Nothing is missed in a brilliant traversal. The vivid goings-on in every scene have the effect of animated conversation throughout, precisely what the earliest conductors who learned this opera from Wagner himself were consistently praised for. This conversational quality is the touchstone of the very greatest Meistersinger conductors, and Jochum has it for days! What a revelation. If not for his Eva............

5. The same lively conversational quality triumphs in Karajan's first set, "live" from Bayreuth, 1951. In fact, in many ways, this is the most thoroughly amusing interpretation as well. The humor in the work is always brought out effortlessly and naturally. Edelmann's Sachs is in the forthright Nissen mold rather than the more introspective one of his other predecessors. But one salutes a vocal resiliency that is greater than Nissen's(!), reaching the final moments with untiring resonance and vocal line. Schwarzkopf's Eva is also heard at its very best (possibly the best reading on disc?). The con here (there's always one..............) is Hans Hopf's Walther. His ungainly pummeling of this music is simply unacceptable. He may have a somewhat stronger vocal resiliency than Suthaus, for instance, but his approach and voice is less attractive. I really cannot take to him, and sincere regrets to any Hopf fans who may be reading this. That said, for a lively, amusing and well-directed performance, one could do a lot worse than this.

6. From 1950/'51, on DECCA/LONDON, we have, under Hans Knappertsbusch, the first set made in the recording studio. Surprisingly, the sound is relatively thin. It's hardly inadequate, merely not up to what one would have expected from DECCA/LONDON at the time. At the same time, it remains eminently listenable. Again, the conversational quality is truly caught. The unforced lyricism in much of the performance also achieves a naturalness that is welcome. And we have Paul Schoeffler's superb Sachs. Here, he may not be as fresh-voiced as for Abendroth, but he still shows expert control (with his vocal flexibility still sufficient for the divisions in the "Euch macht ihr's leicht"), and the sheer musicality and keenness of his Sachs are as welcome as ever. And he is in better company than for Abendroth. Gueden's Eva is a marvel and epitomizes the gemutlich qualities of most of Kna's principals, and, for a wonder, we even have primo tenore Anton Dermota delivering the goods with the most lilting David on disc! For Walther, we rehear Gunther Treptow, two years older than for Jochum -- and sometimes sounding older than that in Act III: The rehearsal scene with Sachs in the cobbler shop is sometimes disconcerting and does not wear well. Elsewhere, he's hardly objectionable, but he is simply not as natural or easy as for Jochum. If there's a flaw in this set, it would be that rehearsal scene. Both this studio set from Vienna and Rudolf Kempe's second studio set (on EMI, see below) catch the geniality of this score, sometimes better than Toscanini. The singers on both, particularly when it comes to the tenor doing Walther, are not as consistent or assured as on the Bodanzky, the Toscanini, or the second Solti. They are still very good, particularly on this Kna, just not as amazingly consistent as on these three others. Nor is the mono sound on the studio Kna and the Kempe II as good as any of the stereo sets further on.

7. In 1952, we are back to a "live" performance. This time, it's Bayreuth, and in the pit is, once more, Hans Knappertsbusch. This is an even greater reading from him than we hear in DECCA/LONDON's recording studios! His cast is not at the same exalted level, but it's rarely bad. Edelmann repeats his stalwart Sachs, and this recording affords a rare opportunity to sample Lisa Della Casa's Eva: a bewitching Eva, and one of the most sympathetic available. This was, of course, the same Bayreuth production as the Karajan a year before, so we shouldn't be surprised, though disappointed, to find Hopf repeating his wearying Walther. This recording showcases, all told, a wonderful reading of the score from Kna -- possibly the finest reading from anyone on disc save Wilhelm Furtwaengler's, which is available only with a dismal Grade-B cast, so off-putting as to preclude itemizing it in this roundup at all. There is nearly dismal and then there is somewhat flawed: Maybe this Kna set at Bayreuth does not have as fine an overall cast as Kna's fine studio effort, but it's still distinguished enough in various aspects additional to its inspired conducting to be somewhat flawed only. The Furtwaengler, on the other hand, has little to distinguish it aside from Furtwaengler's unique contribution (there are also some missing sections in the only known source), making it easier to appreciate truly superb conducting in this "live" Kna reading than in the generally disappointing Furtwaengler, whose cast flirts with the purely dismal at times.

8. From the mid-'50s, on EMI, we have the last of the thoroughly conversational readings: Kempe's second Meistersinger is as inspired in this regard as Jochum, the young Karajan, or Knappertsbusch -- and Kempe has a genuine warmth all his own. His cast is generally excellent as well, and I can understand why many regard this as the best set of all. Frantz's Sachs, although vocally strong, is not as vocally fresh here as Edelmann's, although a more apt interpreter (Frantz is that fresh plus the same more apt interpreter in an earlier Kempe set unfortunately hobbled by an especially ungainly Walther, I feel). Gruemmer's Eva sports a lovely vocal quality and the inborn vividness of a true actress. When luminaries like Gustav Neidlinger, Gottlob Frick, and Hermann Prey (as the Nightwatchman!!!!!!!!!!), and so on, are heard in supporting roles, one has to acknowledge this set as something very special indeed. Rudolf Schock's tenor voice is more suited to this role than that of some of his predecessors like Suthaus or Treptow, but I stand in a minority in that I find the strain heard in Schock's singing even more disconcerting than Treptow's on the studio Kna. As I say, I recognize this as a minority opinion, but I feel that, ultimately, Schock's occasional struggles simply compromise the phrasing and the music more than do Treptow's, the latter seeming marginally more in control to me. Schock still seems more attractive in this role, though, than Hopf.

9. From 1967 comes the Kubelik set. Here I wholeheartedly admire the warmth and naturalness of Kubelik's music-making, even though the Kubelik reading -- more perhaps because of the vocally luxuriant qualities of most of Kubelik's principals than because of Kubelik himself -- does not have as universally conversational a quality as some other sets, veering more toward the oratorical -- though not in a bad way; and with that special warmth of his, Kubelik more than compensates for bringing a slightly less conversational quality to this set than we hear in a few others. Definitely, opt for the ARTS ARCHIVES CD issue, which eclipses all other issues of this set. At the same time, the Kubelik's place in the discography may have been challenged in certain respects by the ANDANTE Toscanini, but not in all. At the least, the Kubelik is already one of the most satisfying readings I know, and it's good to have this in decent sound, now that there is the ARTS ARCHIVE CD. Kubelik's way with the score captures its midsummer feel to perfection, and his principals parallel this inviting approach to what is, after all, a comedy of manners -- with heart. Particularly welcome are the refulgent sounds of Gundula Janowitz and Sandor Konya as Eva and Walther. Brigitte Fassbaender's Magdalene is not far behind them, and Unger still sounds almost as youthful a David as in his earlier reading on Kempe's second recording (for EMI). The rest of the cast is generally satisfying as well. Stewart's Sachs is strong and musical and accords well with the sense of humanity of Kubelik's other principals. There are certain passages he sings beautifully: pages and pages of lively projection of one of the most likable characters in the canon. That counts for a lot. At the same time -- this being from a series of live radio broadcasts, albeit without an audience -- he gets somewhat fatigued and unsteady by the end of the last scene. Also, dipping into the slightly-past-his-prime-but-still-musical Paul Schoeffler on the studio Kna reveals the extent to which a Stewart is not quite as natural in this music as a supreme Sachs (like a Schoeffler or a Schorr) can be. I find that Stewart's somewhat hyper (undoubtedly committed) Sachs can sometimes please, sometimes disturb. Yes, it's an expressive, richly inflected reading, but when Sachs's final peroration to Walther founders on one or two unsteady tones, we are reminded that even the greatest singers are only human. As it is, his contribution is clearly more positive than not. Again, the Toscanini lineup is a useful point of comparison. The supporting performers under Toscanini may not be quite so consistent as Kubelik's (though never less than respectable), but the critical Sachs/Eva/Walther trio is better balanced in the Toscanini. I still prefer Kubelik's conducting to a degree, but the overall effect of the Toscanini reflects a surer _artistic_ whole, I feel. That is a headline in itself, since this Kubelik set, purely as a performance, has always seemed the finest artistic achievement in the discography anyway -- and now, artistically, the Toscanini equals it! Yes, Janowitz and Konya's peaks in the Kubelik may sparkle even more than Reining and Noort with Toscanini, but Reining and Noort are never less than good. The Kubelik with its better sound is still the most revealing and well-prepared reading of the score in stereo. That puts it in a very special niche. No question. Neither the Toscanini, the studio Kna, nor the second Kempe can match the Kubelik combination of a genial way with the score and stereophonic sound. With this recording's rare combination of both attributes, many find this recording the most enjoyable of all. And ultimately I'm inclined to agree.

10. From 1995, on DECCA/LONDON, we have, in Solti's second Meistersinger recording, the most consistent trio of principals in any uncut reading since 1937 and Arturo Toscanini. Van Dam's Sachs may not have the rolling orotund vocal quality of the greatest bass-baritones heard in the part, but Van Dam's refinement and insight, his sense of the poetic, and, above all, his invariably disciplined shaping of the music, stamp him as one of the fine ones. I recognize this take on my part as not necessarily a prevailing view. Some believe that Van Dam brings out too much of the philosopher/poet at the expense of the cobbler. But I believe that the cobbler is not necessarily short-changed, merely placed in a less conspicuous perspective. (Sometimes, I believe that too many others with the requisite burly tones have inadvertently short-changed the philosopher/poet faaaaaaar too much!!!) And in a way, Van Dam's emphasis may be thanks to Van Dam's own intelligence and self-awareness vocally. Recognizing that his tones are not as burly as others, he may have deliberately decided to make Sachs _the_ philosopher of the Mastersingers circle. Of course, Schorr and Schoeffler already do this to an extent (listeners steeped in later and gruffer readings tend to overlook this), but Van Dam is the first to do this so overtly in modern times. And I welcome this as a necessary corrective. The musically disciplined quality in Van Dam is typical of everyone else in the cast. Mattila and Heppner are clearly a bel canto pair of lovers, and one has to wonder whether anyone has ever sung Pogner with more "Golden-Age" sound than Rene Pape. Solti's reading, though, is the antithesis of the conversational Karajan, of Kempe, what-have-you. This Meistersinger is _serious_, with a high sense of purpose and decorum in all its characters. It is not unfelt at all, but what the characters say here is rarely offhand or intimate in the way we hear from others. These are characters reflecting a consistent aristocracy of spirit that can sometimes be touching and sometimes be distancing. It's not the way I'd always want to hear the score, but it's not necessarily wrong for all that. An interesting alternative view, complemented by music-making as superb as we can ever expect to hear. I find it one of the finer sets available, frankly, not least because of the unfailingly musical cast throughout. I also feel that Solti's unexpectedly lyrical way with the score in his second Meistersinger deserves acknowledgement. However, Solti's second recording, fine as it is, might not be _the_ one I'd pick. That is primarily because of one particular factor: geniality again. Other readings have more of this elusive quality (while, unfortunately, Solti's first effort has other far graver defects). Both the studio Knappertsbusch and Kempe's second set simply capture this more. But the singing on them, especially the Walther, is not as consistent or assured as here. And here, one is grateful to have such consistently fine and "Golden-Age" singing in such state-of-the-art fidelity -- for a change!


Part II -- Also-Rans:

Before getting to the more detailed reasoning (below) behind my (strictly subjective) rankings of these top ten (cited above), there are five additional sets that are occasionally cited by collectors as well, for being special in some way, but that I personally find too seriously flawed in one way or another to be seriously considered among the top ten. Effectively, this overview here of these five constitutes all the reasoning needed for not giving them further consideration in Parts III & IV of this survey:

A) "live", 1939, under Erich Leinsdorf, from the MET. If the usual
solid ensemble typical of this period at the MET were reflected in this
set, I'd be readier to overlook its many cuts. But since we already
have the superb trio of Schorr/Rethberg/Maison under Bodanzky (1936)
with similar cuts, the 1939 trio of Schorr/Jessner/Kullman with the less
than stellar Eva of Irene Jessner makes the problem of the many
cuts bulk larger in 1939 than in the better-cast 1936.
Hence, I include the 1936 but put aside this 1939.

B) "live", 1943, under Wilhelm Furtwaengler, from Bayreuth. This is
undoubtedly the best-conducted set on disc. But it is saddled
with an unsympathetic Walther in Lorenz and a hectoring, almost
more unsympathetic Sachs in Jaro Prohaska. These two flaws
plus a missing Quintet(!) place this as less than a considerable set,
despite its unparallelled conducting.

C) "live", 1963, under Joseph Keilberth, at the Munich State Opera.
I've never been much of a fan of Keilberth's conducting (save for his
fine Freischuetz recording), but at least this set does have the
rudiments of a sense of occasion to it. Unfortunately, Keilberth's
conducting still strikes me as more pedestrian than not, with certain
singers providing most of the excitement. Certain singers, not all.
Jess Thomas's Walther is very exciting, possibly the last time we
hear him on disc with a flawlessly steady tone. And Claire Watson (Eva)
is an underrecorded artist who usually makes a distinguished
contribution and whose singing here provides ample reason for
gratitude. Unfortunately, Sachs is just too important to overlook, and
Otto Wiener's Sachs here strikes me as altogether unlistenable. For
once, I won't go into details: I'll simply say that I've never
heard a more ineffective or less musical interpretation. It doesn't
help that Hans Hotter's Pogner also shows minimum vocal control.

D) studio, 1970, under Herbert von Karajan, with the Dresden State
Opera. Karajan is capable here of bringing out much of the lyricism in
the score, and the sound quality is superb as well. He also has a superb
pair of lovers in Helen Donath and Rene Kollo (his finest recording).
But this set lacks the wonderful spontaneity and liveliness of
Karajan's earlier set from Bayreuth, and I plead guilty to being one of
those who has always found the guttural tones of Theo Adam a major
trial. It doesn't help that we have both antagonists, Sachs and
Beckmesser (Geraint Evans), performed by singers who appear to
give themselves over entirely to knee-jerk antimusical shtick whenever
they spar. Tiresome, predictable and sloppy. No thanks.

E) studio, 1993, under Wolfgang Sawallisch, with the Munich State
Opera. As with Furtwaengler, we have a fine conductor here, Sawallisch
(though probably not on quite the same exalted level as Furtwaengler)
leading a warm, loving account of a score that deserves more consistent
singing than it gets here. Fortunately, as with Karajan ('70), there is
a superb pair of lovers, Cheryl Studer and Ben Heppner. In fact, as far
as pure vocal lushness goes, these two are even more attractive than
Donath and Kollo. But once past Studer and Heppner (and a sonorous Kurt
Moll as Pogner), things get dire: I find Bernd Weikl's Hans
Sachs a sad example of a once-fine voice way past its prime, with
minimal steadiness and line; and it is also tiresome hearing a David
like Deon van der Walt whose singing has always stuck me as
improvisational in the extreme (I may stand in a minority in this
regard). He reminds me of a bitter description that Wagner once gave of
an incompetent orchestra trying to go through the Tristan prelude for
the first time: going from note to note "like prospectors in a mine"!


Part III -- Summary, conclusions, [subjective] rankings:

Balancing all these factors, I would slot the Kubelik at the top tier, and I'd slot the Kempe II, the studio Knappertsbusch, theSolti II and the Toscanini as very slightly down a ways, although all of them are still more than acceptable introductions to this sparkling joy-ride of a work.

So there we have in the top tier:

The Kubelik on ARTS ARCHIVE.

The Kubelik has the best sound, some fine conducting, and the relatively strongest ensemble in high fidelity, giving huge satisfaction.

In the second tier:

Toscanini (on ANDANTE), Knappertsbusch (in the studio), Kempe (his second), Solti (his second).

All these sets I've occasionally slotted in at the top tier in the past -- and may do so again..............

The Toscanini has one of the best overall casts of any uncut set in the entire discography. However, even with the loving restoration on ANDANTE, its improved sonics still remain uneven enough from sequence to sequence to be occasionally disconcerting for some listeners, if not all.

The studio Knappertsbusch, though occasionally lacking optimum drive and intensity, shows true conversational genius at its best and has the most acutely penetrating and natural Sachs of all in Schoeffler, with an Eva, Gueden, and a Beckmesser, Doench, whose rapport with Schoeffler enhances an already cohesive sense of ensemble. The lovely tones of Dermota's David are icing on the cake, but the fatigue in Treptow's Act III rehearsal scene takes away some of the glow from the last act.

On the second Kempe, Schock's intrinsic type of tenor is apt enough for Walther to complement -- to an extent -- the sheer rightness of everything else in this set. If it was just a matter of Schock's intrinsic sound and not also a troubling matter of what he does -- or seems ultimately unable to do -- with that sound, this Kempe set could well be the very finest of all: fully as warm as Kubelik, just as conversational as the studio Kna, more consistently sung than the Toscanini (putting aside Kempe's Schock). Unfortunately, Schock's lack of vocal suavity and tenderness compromises this set as much as Treptow's occasional fatigue does in the studio Knappertsbusch.

The second Solti is such a feast for the ears, both vocally and sonically, if not for the heart, that there have been times when I've wondered when Wagner's music has ever sounded so beautiful. But with the Toscanini now being made available in improved sound, if not comparable to the superb sonics in this Solti, and with the Toscanini boasting just as fine an overall cast with superior conducting to boot, the Solti with its similar range of virtues and (somewhat) less engaged conducting now gets slotted in alongside it. This is certainly one clear instance in which the advent of the ANDANTE Toscanini has changed substantively the face of the Meistersinger discography, in my view.

Just to clarify, I wouldn't think it necessarily unfortunate were one to choose any of these four --- the Toscanini, the studio Knappertsbusch, the second Kempe or the second Solti -- as one's introduction to Meistersinger. It's just that I find the Kubelik marginally more inviting and well-rounded in its combination of a generally strong ensemble, very fine conducting and reasonably reliable sonics.

In the third tier:

Bodanzky; Abendroth; "live" Jochum; Karajan (his first); "live" Kna.

These are, for me, the so-called "niche" recordings.

The Bodanzky is the most superbly sung of all. The Abendroth boasts the most superb uncut Hans Sachs of all. The "live" Jochum is the most vividly characterized. The first Karajan is the most genial and amusing. The "live" Kna is the most superbly conducted (of all the ones itemized here, that is, since the best-conducted of all remains the Furtwaengler, while the singing there is so depressingly lacklustre that it simply does not rate).

Our understanding of Wagner's score would be the poorer without each and every one of the five sets in this third tier, but I might still demur at choosing any single one of them as one's introduction to Wagner's masterpiece. One shouldn't, it strikes me, get introduced to Meistersinger via cuts and very ho-hum sound (the Bodanzky), one's first Meistersinger should not have as effortful a Walther as the unsuitable Suthaus or the ungainly Hopf (however young Suthaus is with Abendroth and however sparkling the humor be on the first Karajan or inspired the conducting be on the "live" Kna), and one shouldn't have as one's first Eva a vocal persona who seems older than the Magdalene(!) (the "live" Jochum).

I admire these 5 sets because there are certain things that emerge more distinctively on them than anywhere else, but they're only recommended after one has already learned the opera well via one of the other five sets cited further up (in fact, I don't now own either the Abendroth or the "live" Kna -- that could change, of course).


Part IV -- Breaking it down even further:

For overall vocalism (subjective, of course), putting aside the conductor and the sound quality, the best are the Bodanzky, the Toscanini and the Solti II. The studio Kna and the Kubelik almost equal these in that respect, but not quite. The Kempe II doesn't really, although it has certain individual peaks not matched anywhere else.


1. Bodanzky

2. Toscanini

3. Solti (his second)


4. Knappertsbusch (studio); Kubelik

5. Kempe (his second)


6. Abendroth

7. Jochum ("live"); Karajan (his first); Knappertsbusch “live”

Hans Sachs rankings (subjective, of course):


1. Friedrich Schorr

2. Paul Schoeffler on Abendroth

3. Paul Schoeffler on the studio Kna


4. Hans Hotter

5. Otto Edelmann/Ferdinand Frantz/Hans Hermann Nissen/Thomas Stewart/Jose Van Dam

Eva rankings (subjective, of course):


1. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf


2. Elisabeth Rethberg/Hilde Gueden/Lisa Della Casa/Elisabeth Gruemmer/Gundula Janowitz/Karita Mattila


3. Maria Reining/Hilde Scheppan


4. A. Kupper

Walther rankings (subjective, of course):


1. Sandor Konya

2. Ben Heppner


3. Rene Maison/Henk Noort


4. Gunther Treptow on the "live" Jochum

5. Gunther Treptow on the studio Kna


6. Rudolf Schock

7. Ludwig Suthaus

8. Hans Hopf

Conductor rankings (subjective, of course):

For geniality, they all have it to a degree, even Solti II, though only in spots. For conducting, Kna, Kempe, Jochum, the young Karajan and Kubelik are tops, with Bodanzky/Toscanini very closely behind them. Abendroth and Solti are generally satisfying but not on a par with the others.


1. Hans Knappertsbusch "live"

2. Rudolf Kempe (his second)

3. Eugen Jochum "live"

4. Hans Knappertsbusch (in the studio)

5. Herbert von Karajan (his first)

6. Rafael Kubelik


7. Artur Bodanzky

8. Arturo Toscanini

9. Herman Abendroth


10. Georg Solti (his second)

For sound quality, the stereo Kubelik and Solti II are the best. Theoretically, the mono Kna and Kempe II, both made in the professional recording studio, ought to be on the next level sonically, but they are each oddly opaque, in varying ways, for their time, and with there being some wonderfully "present" moments in the restored Toscanini, in the Abendroth, in the "live" Jochum, as well as in a few others, giving a wonderful "depth" of stage perspective, the studio-made Kna and Kempe II can sometimes pale by comparison, notwithstanding their greater sonic consistency in general. Ultimately, of course, the Kna and Kempe II are free of the (very occasional) distortion heard in certain "live" sets.


1. Kubelik; Solti (his second)


2. Von Karajan (his first); Knappertsbusch (studio); Kempe (his second)

3. Abendroth; "live" Jochum; "live" Knappertsbusch


4. Toscanini (ANDANTE)


5. Bodanzky

Hoping this may prove useful to some,


-- Geoffrey Riggs





















The Assoluta Voice in Opera, 1797 - 1847 NEW BOOK





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