Critical Words: Arnold Whittall on Meistersinger

Every month the classical music magazine Gramophone does a feature comparing recordings of some great monument of classical music. This month Arnold Whittall is surveying Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg versions on disc and and DVD and is, as is his wont, perceptive, even-handed and fleet of phrase.

Here’s a bit in which he takes care of a mid-century performance by the great Wotan, Hans Hotter.

The 1956 Bayreuth performance under André Cluytens is treasurable for capturing Hans Hotter‘s Sachs at its most subtle and least wobbly, though the Walhall sound quality is poor and Wolfgang Windgassen’s ardent but soulless Walther is an acquired taste.

39 words and you know what you need to know.

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Nürnberg possibly as it was in Hans Sachs’ day.

By the way, I heard James Morris (another great Wotan) on WQRX recalling this tidbit about Meistersinger: “I believe that Die Meistersinger is the greatest single work of art ever produced by man. It took more skill to plan and write it than it took to plan and write the whole canon of Shakespeare.” –H.L. Mencken. His trademark hyperbole, no doubt, but it is a kind of overwhelming opera to come to grips with (and is, to my mind, going for something completely different from the aims of Shakespeare).

Guilty Pleasures: Hatchet Jobs

Wuthering Heights
Time will tell, and sometimes the author (or at least the book) gets the last laugh, “Here all the faults of Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë) are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read.” -James Lorimer, North British Review, 1847, on Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë”

In addition to bringing us the Bad Sex in Literature Award (I think John Updike won their equivalent of the Irving G. Thalberg lifetime achievement medal), the Brits have also created The Hatchet Job of the Year award, promoting “integrity and wit in literary journalism.” The eight finalists include some “laugh out loud on the subway” moments.

The Guardian has an article as well as a slideshow with choice water balloon bits:

Utter drivel

Cod philosophy

repellent arrogance

(Although, to be fair, who on earth would read AN Wilson’s Hitler book? And many poets don’t seem to be able to get it together for a novel. If your usual occupation is painting Fabergé eggs, you’re probably going to fail at painting a barn.)

Will anybody equal last year’s winner, Adam Mars-Jones take down of Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall?, which he faults for, among other things, dangling undigested literary references like “tin cans behind a tricycle.” Mars-Jones also has a nice bit about taking on writers outside your punching class:

There are some writers you shouldn’t challenge if you can help it – as Flannery O’Connor remarked about Faulkner’s superior power, “nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.”