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 Recording of the Week  Reginald Goodall's revelatory 'Mastersingers'

Conductor Reginald Goodall is undoubtedly best known for his 1970s recordings of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle sung in English. But those now legendary recordings only came about as a result of the success the conductor had enjoyed back in early 1968 with the composer's popular comic opera (also sung in English) The Mastersingers.

Despite some notable earlier successes (such as the première of Britten's Peter Grimes in 1945), by the 1960s Reginald Goodall’s career was somewhat in decline, and his conducting engagements had dwindled (although he remained very highly regarded as a vocal coach). He had fallen out of favour at the Royal Opera House and needed a good break in order to reverse his decline.

That break came in 1968 when he was engaged by Sadler’s Wells Opera Company (the predecessor to ENO) to conduct a new English production of The Mastersingers. He was granted huge amounts of rehearsal time which meant he was able to coach the cast of young, mainly British singers right through from the preliminary rehearsals.

Reginald Goodall
Reginald Goodall

The performances were widely acclaimed and there was even a live broadcast on the BBC. However, that recording sadly disappeared into the archives and has since become one of the most talked about ‘lost’ performances. Finally however, a recording of that broadcast has been found. It has been re-mastered by Chandos and is being released today on the labels’ popular Opera in English series.

So, what’s it like, and is it worth getting?

Well, that probably depends on what you’re looking for. I should make clear from the start that the sound quality is generally quite poor, especially when compared to the remarkable achievement of the Ring cycle recorded less that ten years later, so really you have to view it more like an historical performance rather than one from the late 1960s.

However, this is largely compensated for by the performance, which is both fascinating and in some places revelatory. The young cast (many of whom went on to star in that famous Ring Cycle) sing with a deep understanding of the score and real subtleties of colour and phrasing, led by the quite superb Norman Bailey who plays Hans Sachs.

But overall what you would probably buy this set for is the conducting of Reginald Goodall, and particularly his slow and expansive reading of the score, for which he was so renowned. What hits you more than anything else is the scale on which he is thinking. He can hold things in reserve, literally for hours, and build a crescendo in a longer and harder way than you’ve ever heard before.

Although I wouldn’t recommend this to someone as their first Meistersinger (that should really be in German, and of a better sound quality), for anyone who already knows and loves the opera this is hugely exciting. You hear things that you won’t have heard anywhere else, in any language, and you can't help but be impressed and moved by the immense depths of mood and meaning which Goodall extracts from the score.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Margaret Curphey (soprano), Ann Robson (mezzo-soprano), Alberto Remedios (tenor), Gregory Dempsey (tenor), Norman Bailey (bass-baritone), Noel ngin (bass), Derek Hammond Stroud (baritone) & Stafford Dean (bass) Sadlers Wells Chorus & Sadlers Wells Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall

Available Format: 4 CDs

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen

Recorded 1975 and 1978, sung in English

English National Opera / Sadlers Wells Opera, Reginald Goodall

Available Format: 16 CDs