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Reviewed by Joel Kasow in Paris

Karita Mattila, soprano (Eva); Iris Vermillion, mezzo-soprano (Magdalena); Ben Heppner, tenor (Walther); Herbert Lippert, tenor (David); José van Dam, bass-baritone (Hans Sachs); René Pape, bass (Pogner); Alan Opie, baritone (Beckmesser); Albert Dohmen, baritone (Kothner)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Sir Georg Solti

Decca 452 606-2. (4 CDs)

ir Georg Solti evidently wanted to have another go at Wagner's comic masterpiece as his earlier attempt was not entirely satisfactory. No expense was spared, and fortunately Solti's long-standing contact with the Chicago Orchestra resulted in the necessary setting: the recording was made at live performances between 23 and 27 September 1995. There is no denying the conductor's grasp of the score, but he is too often betrayed by the sound engineers who have once again provided the sort of glassy sound that someone must think essential to a Solti recording. One is too aware of distinct musical lines to the detriment of any sort of blend - and we know that this Rolls-Royce of orchestras is capable of better - also noticeable with the singers.

This is unfortunate as the exceptional cast deserved better. José van Dam is perhaps the most complete shoemaker around today, easily encompassing the notes and always going beyond to give us a memorable portrayal. Karita Mattila's artistic generosity finds a role to measure as Eva, while Ben Heppner may be the only tenor today who has the vocal resources for Walther and also the poetry without which the opera falls apart. In those scenes involving these three performers, we might almost think we were in a new golden age. Supporting perfomers are all excellent, with the exception of Herbert Lippert's anemic David and Albert Dohmen's bullish Kothner.

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