- Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, opera, WWV 96
In anticipation of the 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner's birth, Marek Janowski and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra embarked on an ambitious project to record the ten major music dramas for PentaTone; the recording of "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" was made on June 3, 2011, as a concert performance without costumes or staging, the better to concentrate all energies on the music. This is a stunning package, presented on four hybrid multichannel SACDs in a thick hardcover book that is replete with background notes and the libretto. Janowski has distinguished himself with his previous releases with this audiophile label, and his reading of "Meistersinger" is entirely at the service of the score, without any idiosyncrasies or novelties, and the orchestra plays with equal seriousness and dedication. The experienced cast is captivating and the singers audibly inhabit their roles, even without the benefit of a full production. Especially noteworthy is the charismatic singing by the leads, tenor Robert Dean Smith as Walther von Stolzing, soprano Edith Haller as Eva, baritone Albert Dohmen as Hans Sachs, and tenor Peter Sonn as David, who embody the most appealing of Wagner's characters. The sound is superb, offering close-up microphone placement for the vocalists, but also ample coverage of the orchestra and choir, so the illusion of being physically present is quite successful, especially when the music is heard over headphones. For newcomers, this is an excellent introduction to Wagner and to "Die Meistersinger," and it is sure to win many admirers, even among connoisseurs who already own a cherished version.