The Telegraph
Rupert Christiansen
Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Edinburgh, 2 September 2006
A farewell filled with warmth and wisdom
Rupert Christiansen reviews Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Usher Hall, Edinburgh
To mark the end of his 15-year stint as director of the International Festival, Sir Brian McMaster programmed a concert performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger. It's the perfect choice for such an occasion – an opera full of the festive warmth of summer and the joy of both witnessing and participating in art, as well as the melancholy wisdom of maturity.

On sentimental grounds, it seemed a pity that someone like Sir Charles Mackerras with close associations to McMaster's Edinburgh wasn't conducting the valedictory, and the choice of the American David Robertson was surprising on other grounds, too – he's not to my knowledge noted as a Wagnerian.

But, in the event, no complaints. Robertson did a perfectly good job, keeping the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on its toes – there was some especially lovely silken string playing in Act 2 – and taking a generally brisk approach to a score that can swiftly sound clodhopping when mediocrities are in command.

Robertson was fortunate in his excellent singers, not least the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, whose "Wach auf" was mightily stirring. At the still centre, however, was Robert Holl's Sachs, a shaggy, shambling presence, radiating a proper mixture of sceptical irritation at the world's idiocies and a big-hearted vision of its beauties. The ruddy warmth of his voice and the sensitivity of his phrasing gave rare pleasure.

Scarcely less good was Jonas Kaufmann, looking the part of the romantic hero Walther to perfection and singing with all his usual firmness, intelligence and artistry. Was he running out of puff at the very end? The "Prize Song" lacked quite the transfiguring glow that Wagner intended.

His beloved Eva was the delightful Hillevi Martinpelto, in steadier voice than in her previous Edinburgh appearances – if only her diction had been a bit crisper. Andrew Shore made a credibly uncaricatured Beckmesser; Toby Spence presented a sharply characterised and vivaciously sung David; and Wendy Dawn Thompson was an exuberant Magdalene. Matthew Rose (Pogner), James Rutherford (Kothner) and Paul Whelan (Nightwatchman) upheld the honour of the bass.

The band of Mastersingers was appropriately drawn from grey-haired old-timers such as John Shirley-Quirk, while the fresh-faced Apprentices came from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Both were splendid.

It hasn't been the most artistically successful of festivals, but McMaster saved his best to last – with this uplifting performance, he leaves Edinburgh on a high note.

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