OP3156. DIE MEISTERSINGER, Live Performance, 23 July, 1960, Bayreuth, w.Knappertsbusch Cond. Bayreuth Ensemble; Josef Greindl, Wolfgang Windgassen, Elisabeth Grümmer, Theo Adam, Karl Schmitt-Walter, Ludwig Weber, Gerhard Stolze, Eugen Fuchs, etc. (Austria) 4-Orfeo C917 154L. - 4011790917429
"Hans Knappertsbusch's 1960 MEISTERSINGER from the Bayreuth Festival benefits from a sense of vocal collaboration that is untypical of Wagner performances. Here, a highly colourful ensemble offers the vital variety necessary for its characters and this is a happy mixture of proven older voices, younger voices that are just getting established, and an impressive début in the role of Sachs by the 47-year-old Josef Greindl.
However, the star of the performance is undoubtedly the 72-year-old newcomer to the production, Hans Knappertsbusch. His interpretation of this complex, tricky work is anything but Teutonic and heavy, but instead consciously cultivated and restrained, always supportive of the voices, relaxed, and with a chamber-music lightness in the dialogues (good in this work and precludes any sense of longueurs!). The impact of the fugue during the brawl in the second act, for example, is all the greater performed as a great arch (and with a great sense of fun in the hubbub it makes), and the excitement lasts all the way to the end of the act. The manner in which Kna savours the dances on the festive meadow is also astonishing, displaying something between the magically twee and the gruffly rustic, all in careful doses, and conjoined with audible pleasure; this is truly 'festive'!
In contrast to a market blighted with by pirated and unauthorised editions, much care has been invested here in restoring the original sound. The booklet is adorned by exclusive stills from the Bayreuth archives and a highly stimulating essay by Peter Emmerich on the dramaturgical situation in Bayreuth in 1960 and its impact on the Festival audiences.
Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned and beloved conductors of the German Romantic repertoire in the middle twentieth century. Although he grew up playing and loving music, his parents objected to the notion of a musical career. Thus Knappertsbusch studied philosophy at Bonn University. In 1908, however, he entered the Cologne Conservatory and took conducting courses with Fritz Steinbach.
Knappertsbusch began his career as a staff conductor at the Mülheim-Ruhr Theater (1910-1912) and then as opera director in his home town of Elberfeld. Equally important to his development were his forays into the temple of Wagnerism. He spent several summers as an assistant to director Siegfried Wagner and conductor Hans Richter at the Bayreuth Festival and took part in the Netherlands Wagner Festivals in 1913 and 1914. After the end of World War I Knappertsbusch worked in Dessau and Leipzig, and in 1922 he was asked to succeed Bruno Walter as music director of the Munich Opera.
Knappertsbusch's personality was easygoing; he was notably free of the restlessness and undue ambition that often attended a rising career such as his. He was content mainly to stay in Munich, with the result that he never became as well-known as many of his colleagues. In any case, Munich fully appreciated Knappertsbusch's talents, and he was named conductor for life. However, he refused several demands made by the Nazis and was fired from his lifetime post in 1936. He conducted a memorable SALOME in Covent Garden in 1936 and 1937, and made some guest appearances elsewhere in Germany, but was content to maintain a low profile during the Nazi regime. He left Germany after the Munich debacle, settling in Vienna where he frequently conducted the Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera. Knappertsbusch's career was again affected by the Nazis when Germany took over Austria over in 1938, but he was mostly able to steer clear of trouble.
Knappertsbusch gained a reputation for broad, magisterial performances of Bruckner, and more and more seemed to emerge as the representative of the traditional style of unhurried Wagner performances. He was famous for disliking rehearsals, often cutting them short; his orchestral players maintained that this was not the result of laziness, but of complete security in his interpretation and trust of the players. His performances were therefore not rigidly preconceived, but instead had a remarkable freshness and spontaneity.
When the Bayreuth Festival reopened in 1951, Knappertsbusch worked closely with Wieland Wagner on orchestral matters (though the conductor was known to dislike the director's spare, revolutionary stage productions).”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
“The most important singer of the German Heldentenor repertory in the 1950s and 1960s, Wolfgang Windgassen employed his not-quite-heroic instrument, believable physique, and considerable musical intelligence to forge memorable performances on-stage and in the recording studio.
The tenor made his début as Alvaro in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO at Pforzheim in 1941. In 1945, he joined the Württembergisches Staatstheater in Stuttgart, steadily moving from lyric rôles to more heroic parts; he remained a singer there until 1972. Upon making his début in the first postwar season at Bayreuth in 1951, he came to international attention. His Parsifal, growing from uncomprehending innocence to maturity and service, was a moving portrayal and was recorded live by Decca Records. Windgassen became indispensable at the Bayreuth Festival, excelling as Lohengrin, the two Siegfrieds, Tannhäuser, and Tristan. There, he earned the respect and devotion of the three leading dramatic sopranos of the age: Martha Mödl, Astrid Varnay, and Birgit Nilsson. Elsewhere, Windgassen made positive impressions at La Scala (where he débuted as Florestan in 1952), Paris (Parsifal in 1954), and Covent Garden, where he appeared as Tristan in 1954. Although regarded by English critics as somewhat light of voice for Wagner's heaviest tenor rôles, his lyric expression and dramatic aptness were wholly admired. The Metropolitan Opera briefly heard him as Siegmund beginning in January 1957 and as Siegfried. Windgassen did not return to America until 1970, when he sang Tristan to the Isolde of Nilsson at San Francisco. Beginning that same year, he turned to stage direction. Among Windgassen's finest recordings are his Bayreuth PARSIFAL, captured with a superb cast under Knappertsbusch's direction, his 1954 Bayreuth LOHENGRIN under Jochum, his SIEGFRIEDs under both Böhm at Bayreuth and in the studio with Solti, and his Bayreuth TRISTAN with Böhm conducting and Nilsson as his Isolde.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Josef Greindl was considered as one of the greatest Wagner singers of his time. He had a powerfully expressive bass voice, whose clarity of declamation exhibited his stylistic projecting ability. Josef Greindl was equally convincing in dramatic and Buffo rôles. He also excelled in concert singing.”
- Aryeh Oron
“At the Metropolitan Opera, Theo Adam débuted as Hans Sachs on 7 February 1969. That same year he sang in performances of DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN (as Wotan), opposite Birgit Nilsson, Régine Crespin, Lili Chookasian, and Jon Vickers, conducted and directed by Herbert von Karajan. He returned to the Met in 1972 to sing Hans Sachs and Wotan again with a similar cast that now also included Gwyneth Jones. After a sixteen year absence, Adam returned to the Met for the last time in March 1988 to portray Wotan in DIE WALKÜRE.”
- Z. D. Akron