Among the more daring projects underway for the Wagner centenary is Dutch-based PentaTone’s plan to record Wagner’s ten later operas on SACD, all from concert performances and all conducted by seasoned Wagnerian Marek Janowski. Following a superb sonic rendition of The Flying Dutchman last year, here we have Die Meistersinger, to be followed rapidly by Parsifal next month. Wagner’s comic masterpiece can be a hard act to pull off, requiring dramatic singers with stamina who can act with a lightness of touch when required. Quite a feat, and one that nearly comes off here, if not quite.
First, the pluses. The sonic engineering is superb – not quite as orchestrally revelatory as the Dutchman but you’ll be hard pressed to find a better sounding opera recording. Albert Dohmen as Hans Sachs is also mightily impressive, firm of tone and offering great textual insight into this multifaceted character. Edith Haller’s Eva is charming and Dietrich Henschel makes Beckmesser a formidable rival, if pushed at the very top of the voice. The sense of ensemble is also excellent with fine chorus work and a great sense of occasion, all moving forward swimmingly in Janowski’s pacey reading.
It’s the two tenors who let things down, neither of whom have voices quite up to Wagner’s demands. Peter Sonn’s David I can live with (just) but Robert Dean Smith’s Walther sounds strained and lacks freshness and charm. If Janowski is short on the last ounce of spontaneous fun when required, this shouldn’t detract from what is an excellent reading to which I shall certainly return.