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American Record Guide, December 2008

Wolfgang Wagner’s 1999 Meistersinger is streamlined and uncluttered. The stage has few props, and the backgrounds are just realistic enough to establish time and place. Costumes are clean and colorful, though still persuasively medieval. Only Sachs’s workshop, a stark white box set in the center of the stage, is truly disappointing.

The performance is in the fair-to-good category, nothing incompetent or inoffensive but nothing really special either. Holl, more bass than baritone, has a gray, slightly throttled voice. He has to reach for his highest notes, and he does little with the words other than sing them carefully. At least he looks good, but he’s outsung by Schmidt’s Beckmesser, freer on top and clearer in diction, and Hölle’s sonorous Pogner. Seiffert is not a photogenic Walther, but he maintains a steady, ringing line without the wobble that has lately afflicted his voice. Wottrich’s handsome David sounds like a Stolzing in the making. The ladies look lovely. Birgitta Svenden is an adorable Magdalene, and Emily Magee has no trouble filling out Eva’s soaring phrases, though her voice is not particularly beautiful or individual.

Barenboim’s grand but softly articulated Prelude sets the tone for the whole performance. He favors big, well-blended sounds, and he loves the score’s splashy moments, from Pogner’s pompous pronouncements to the dances and choruses of Act 3. He chooses sensible tempos, and he never slights the beauty of the music. The magic comes through, but I still wished for better endowed singers.

This was recorded in the Festspielhaus June 21-30, 1999, probably at rehearsals. The actual Bayreuth Festival begins later in the summer, so there was probably no audience, which may explain why the voices have a bit of an edge. The sound is still excellent, and so is the camera work.

Tim Homfray
The Strad, December 2008

The Juilliard Quartet seems to have been with us always. When the performances on this DVD were recorded in 1975, the group had already existed for 30 years and had achieved a surety and authority of playing that comes with the wisdom of age. Visually, the DVD is simple: the four sit on a rostrum in the beautiful Baroque Bibliotheksaal in Polling, Bavaria, with its white walls, columns and paintings, and the cameras look on from various angles without being annoying.

Musically it is a multi-faceted joy. The maturity in this playing manifests itself in an almost matter-of-fact manner, not through any lack of involvement, but in a feeling that this music has been internalised and understood to the extent that there is no need to embellish its surfaces. It can certainly be vivid. The C minor Quartet op.18 noA is powerful and dramatic, and the players keep it moving—the second and third movements have great drive to them—but they keep their powder dry for the moments when a touch of extra colour will be most telling.

There is drama in the C sharp minor Quartet op.131—the players emphasise the sforzandos in the opening fugue more than many groups do, but contain them within a prevailing serenity. Their tempo in the Adagio molto e mesto of the F major Quartet op.59 nO.1 is perfectly judged, allowing it both momentum and a sense of timeless contemplation. Indeed, this is all perfectly judged, and in the spacious acoustic of the Bibliotheksaal it sounds wonderful.

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10:55:19 PM, 29 July 2015
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