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Thread: Wagner on disc....Parsifal

  1. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by Itullian View Post
    No problems with the dynamic range on the Barenboim?
    You think it's dynamically flat?

    N.

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    I've started listening to the Pasifal with Callas and its o.k. I've only listened to act one so far and I'm very impressed with Christoff, well what there is left of his part anyway. Too early to pass judgement on Callas. I'll be glad to have heard it but I'm unlikely to give it repeated listenings because of the utterly brutal cuts. What is the point of butchering something that any composer has poured himself into. I would assume that the notes they wrote were intended to be listened to and I'm aghast at the temerity of whoever decided on what should stay in and what should be excised in this particular instance. Aaargh. It's a disgrace.
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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    I'll be glad to have heard it but I'm unlikely to give it repeated listenings because of the utterly brutal cuts. What is the point of butchering something that any composer has poured himself into. I would assume that the notes they wrote were intended to be listened to and I'm aghast at the temerity of whoever decided on what should stay in and what should be excised in this particular instance. Aaargh. It's a disgrace.
    While I agree, outside of Bayreuth and some of the bigger German and Austrian houses, the concept of uncut Wagnerian performances is a pretty recent one. I don't believe that the Met, for example, routinely performed Tristan, Meistersinger, Parsifal, or the RING operas uncut until James Levine's music directorship. There's an occasional uncut Met broadcast (the Walkure from Boston in 1940 isn't cut, I believe), but until 1970 or so, those are the exception rather than the rule.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte View Post
    Kna 62 is a classic, but I think he was at his best during his final year at Bayreuth:
    Attachment 98505
    Having Vickers as Parsifal didn't hurt, either....

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  6. #50
    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I'll repeat, with additional remarks, what I've said in another thread.

    The interesting thing about Parsifal is that it's hard to find a really bad recording of it. Although there are individual singers or conductorial concepts that will rule out certain recordings for some people, I think the piece tends to instill in its interpreters a special sense of responsibility. As Antonio Pappano said, "it's an incredible privilege for a musician to be anywhere near this work."

    I regard the Knappertsbusch recording of 1962, even after all these years, to be the "central" recommendation for Parsifal, for its fine sound as well as for a great conductor's lifetime of experience with the score and a cast as solid as any recording has assembled. Some may have reservations about the vocal estate of the aging Hans Hotter as Gurnemanz (although the part doesn't tax his upper register as Wotan does on his Walkure with Solti), but no one has brought greater subtlety and nobility to the role, and for me he is central to the feeling of emotional truth exuded by the whole performance. Jess Thomas sings beautifully and with great sincerity of feeling throughout as Parsifal, even if he could use a bit more sheer intensity in Act 2. Irene Dalis's firm, sensual mezzo and keen intelligence make her a Kundry unmatched by any except Christa Ludwig (who can be heard on the Solti Parsifal). Her svengali Klingsor is masterfully sung by Gustav Neidlinger in dependable Alberich mode, though not as imaginatively as the great Hermann Uhde in some earlier Bayreuth performances. George London repeats his dignified and intense Amfortas; his voice is in slightly rougher estate than in his first Bayreuth recording from 1951, when he was able to bring a little more vocal nuance to the part. Minor roles are uniformly well-cast (with Gundula Janowitz an exquisite first flower maiden), and the choral work is impeccable. All concerned enter totally into the spirit of the work and never put a foot wrong, giving us the sense of the mythical world of Montsalvat as a real place in which real events, not merely a performance of something, unfold and absorb us completely for four hours. The Bayreuth acoustic casts its ethereal spell even in a recording, and the balance of voices and orchestra is exemplary. This remains for me one of the essential recordings of a Wagner opera.

    We can experience the Bayreuth sound, though not in stereo, in quite a few other recordings of Parsifal made throughout the 1950s. In those, we hear a number of the singers favored at the theater, including Wolfgang Windgassen and Martha Modl as Parsifal and Kundry in the first recording from 1951 (the recording by which many of us first heard the opera). They perform with the intensity and intelligence we'd expect, although not with the vocal beauty of Thomas and Dalis in 1962. I can recommend the 1951 performance for the noble Gurnemanz of veteran Ludwig Weber and above all for the wonderfully unhinged Klingsor of Hermann Uhde, who got beneath straightforward villainy to suggest the character's underlying fear, impotence and brittle hysteria. In that year Knappertsbusch offered tempos considerably slower than those of 1962, which some like and others don't; I think they pay momentary expressive dividends here and there, but slightly diminish the dramatic momentum and flow of the whole. It might be pertinent to observe that the overall timing of Kna's 1962 performance is almost identical to that of Hermann Levi, the conductor Wagner chose and supervised for the opera's premiere in 1882.

    Among studio recordings, Rafael Kubelik's seems most highly recommended: I have heard only excerpts from it, so I'll leave commentary to others who know it well.

    The Solti recording is notable for its superb sonics and excellent cast, with Christa Ludwig's ideal Kundry, a fine Gurnemanz from veteran Gottlob Frick, and a typically detailed if self-conscious Amfortas from Dietrich-Fischer-Dieskau (not inappropriate to the character, it must be said). The major weakness is Rene Kollo's Parsifal, not bad but vocally undistinguished; too bad somebody didn't snag Jon Vickers for the part. Solti's Wagner stylings are not universally enjoyed, but he's on his best behavior here: if he doesn't work Knappertsbusch's magic he does at least reveal the beauty of the orchestration and keep the momentum up most of the time.

    Karajan's stereo recording is widely liked but, as always with his studio Wagner operas, distinctly Karajanized. He has a few personal ideas about sonorities and balances, and a way of drawing attention to them, which you may or may not like, and no one will confuse this with a live occasion; the score emerges as supersensuous and hyperrefined, but somewhat lacking in spontaneity and dramatic pressure. Among his singers only two really stand out, and both are among the best to take on their roles on recordings: Kurt Moll's mellifluous Gurnemanz and Jose van Dam's poetic Amfortas. For me the production is seriously let down by the sincere but vocally unsteady Parsifal of Peter Hoffmann, and especially by the Kundry, Dunja Vejzovica, an undistinguished soprano/mezzo who for some reason Karajan had a liking for and who also helps spoil for me his recording of Der Fliegende Hollander. This Parsifal has many beauties but is definitely "Karajan's Parsifal" as much as it's Wagner's

    Another version that divides opinion is that of Boulez at Bayreuth from 1970. The cast isn't among the finest, but the real issue is Boulez's quick and bright conducting, which I might characterize as anti-Knappertsbusch. You'll either like it or you won't. I don't; I've never been in any hurry to get through this opera. Of Parsifals from the stereo era, this is probably the one I find least attractive in its failure to capture the spirit of the work, but those who like Boulez's approach might reserve that distinction for one of the really slow performances by James Levine or Reginald Goodall, neither of whom has the Knappertsbusch secret of finding the inner pulse and organic flow in music which, already slow, doesn't need to be made even slower in some quest for maximal profundity.

    Those are the Parsifal recordings I know best. There are several other worthy studio efforts and a great many live performances; the history of Parsifal at postwar Bayreuth is well-documented, and there's an interesting but rather poorly recorded Karajan from Vienna in 1961 which shows the conductor more spontaneous and dramatic in the opera house than he was in the recording studio.
    I'm interested in you saying 'karajan's Parsifal as much as Wagner's'
    Surely any performance of a work like this is the conductor's vision of the piece, like it or not. Imean, is Kna's 'Wagner'sWagner' or is it the much swifter Krauss? Who comes nearest Wagner's ideal? We simply don't know as there is no recordings fit like (eg) Britten's Peter Grimes. Even then you have divergent interpretations from the composer's conception eg the Vickers / Davis Grimes which the composer is said to not have liked. Surely 'Wagner's Wagner' is more like 'how I prefer it' rather than some definite point in space. Interesting in the way some conductors have dragged through this opera is that Wagner himself apparently wanted Levi to get a move on when conducting it. So would he gave preferred Krauss to Kna? Or even Boulez?
    Last edited by DavidA; Oct-23-2017 at 21:38.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    No, too exaggerated.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    I think Wood duck said that Kna's '62 is about the same timing as Hermann Levi's, the conductor that conducted the Opera for Wagner.
    That should be a good guide.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

  9. #53
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    I'm interested in you saying 'karajan's Parsifal as much as Wagner's'
    Surely any performance of a work like this is the conductor's vision of the piece, like it or not. Imean, is Kna's 'Wagner'sWagner' or is it the much swifter Krauss? Who comes nearest Wagner's ideal? We simply don't know as there is no recordings fit like (eg) Britten's Peter Grimes. Even then you have divergent interpretations from the composer's conception eg the Vickers / Davis Grimes which the composer is said to not have liked. Surely 'Wagner's Wagner' is more like 'how I prefer it' rather than some definite point in space. Interesting in the way some conductors have dragged through this opera is that Wagner himself apparently wanted Levi to get a move on when conducting it. So would he gave preferred Krauss to Kna? Or even Boulez?
    Your larger point is valid, but late Karajan really is special. No conductor I can think of, including early Karajan (before he became "KARAJAN"), so draws attention to his "conception" of Wagner's works, exaggerating dynamic levels, bringing out subordinate voices, creating sensuous orchestral moments, etc., sometimes sacrificing the sense of natural unfolding that we want in a dramatic work and making us conscious that "this is a recording." I am far from alone in noting this, and it applies to his treatment of music beyond Wagner's. The term "Karajanization" isn't my own invention. I will say, however, that Boulez does just as much to make Parsifal "his own" as Karajan does, and even has a quasi-philosophical justification for it (which happens to be pure horsepucky).

    Tangentially, this matter of tempo needs clearing up. It's wrong to think that Wagner was always hurrying his interpreters along, and that Levi's tempos, presumably approved by Wagner, were forced on him by the composer. Moreover, Levi's tempos, to judge by his overall timing, were in fact not as fast as those of Boulez or Kegel, but pretty middle-of-the-road, almost exactly like Kna's in 1962. Wagner himself conducted the prelude to the opera a couple of times in concert and the tempo was different each time, on one occasion moderate and on the other quite slow. He also took the baton for the final scene at the last performance in 1882, and a singer (it may have been Lilli Lehmann) noted that the tempo was slow enough to tax the singers' breath. Making allowances for his age and his no doubt sentimental frame of mind, I think we can assume that he, like any musician, knew that tempo must arise from the living experience of making music and that no tempo is always the "right" one.

    Having said that, I can't imagine him tolerating the sleepy slog James Levine offers in Parsifal.

  10. #54
    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Your larger point is valid, but late Karajan really is special. No conductor I can think of, including early Karajan (before he became "KARAJAN"), so draws attention to his "conception" of Wagner's works, exaggerating dynamic levels, bringing out subordinate voices, creating sensuous orchestral moments, etc., sometimes sacrificing the sense of natural unfolding that we want in a dramatic work and making us conscious that "this is a recording." I am far from alone in noting this, and it applies to his treatment of music beyond Wagner's. The term "Karajanization" isn't my own invention. I will say, however, that Boulez does just as much to make Parsifal "his own" as Karajan does, and even has a quasi-philosophical justification for it (which happens to be pure horsepucky).

    Tangentially, this matter of tempo needs clearing up. It's wrong to think that Wagner was always hurrying his interpreters along, and that Levi's tempos, presumably approved by Wagner, were forced on him by the composer. Moreover, Levi's tempos, to judge by his overall timing, were in fact not as fast as those of Boulez or Kegel, but pretty middle-of-the-road, almost exactly like Kna's in 1962. Wagner himself conducted the prelude to the opera a couple of times in concert and the tempo was different each time, on one occasion moderate and on the other quite slow. He also took the baton for the final scene at the last performance in 1882, and a singer (it may have been Lilli Lehmann) noted that the tempo was slow enough to tax the singers' breath. Making allowances for his age and his no doubt sentimental frame of mind, I think we can assume that he, like any musician, knew that tempo must arise from the living experience of making music and that no tempo is always the "right" one.

    Having said that, I can't imagine him tolerating the sleepy slog James Levine offers in Parsifal.
    I know.

    Of course we know there are many different ways to interpret a composer. Interesting that Karajan was a different sort of creature in the opera house than in the recording studio. Critics with a tin ear often accuse him of conducting everything the same but it just proves their own lack of musical perception. The live Parsifal from Vienna is quite different from the studio one. Pity it is so wretchedly recorded or it could stand with his 1952 live Tristan. Similarly his live performances of other operas like Figaro, Fidelio and Giovanni are quite different from what he put down in the studio. Having said that I think the DG Parsifal is absolutely stunning too.
    Last edited by DavidA; Oct-23-2017 at 22:24.

  11. #55
    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wkasimer View Post
    While I agree, outside of Bayreuth and some of the bigger German and Austrian houses, the concept of uncut Wagnerian performances is a pretty recent one. I don't believe that the Met, for example, routinely performed Tristan, Meistersinger, Parsifal, or the RING operas uncut until James Levine's music directorship. There's an occasional uncut Met broadcast (the Walkure from Boston in 1940 isn't cut, I believe), but until 1970 or so, those are the exception rather than the rule.
    Yeah, I know that, but it still infuriates me. I don't understand why producers feel they need to make cuts and why conductors and indeed singers agree to them. Bah, humbug!
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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    Yeah, I know that, but it still infuriates me. I don't understand why producers feel they need to make cuts and why conductors and indeed singers agree to them. Bah, humbug!
    The singers agree to them because it makes the role easier, and they're not paid by the note.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    I don't care for this opera's pseudo-religious plot but it does contain some fabulously beautiful music. Though many will disagree with me, it is far too long to sustain the action with particularly Gurnemanz given to interminable discourses. The part therefore needs someone who is more than expressive to carry the action (or lack of it).
    I must confess that it is the beauty of the music that attracts me so these are the recordings I possess:

    Parsifal Kna.jpg

    I know this is a classic but Kna is a bit ponderous imo. Great cast though

    Parsifal.jpg

    Great performance - perhaps the finest on disc. Wonderful cast with Ludwig absolutely superb in Act 2 appearance. Karajan cast two Kundrys but Ludwig is absolutely definitive, Berry is malevolent and Hotter at his best. Uhl a bit over parted but fine.
    One major drawback is the poor recording quality from a radio broadcast

    Parsifal Bar.jpg

    Wonderful playing from the BPO. Only reseveration is the Gurnemantz who is comparatively uninteresting

    Parsifal Karajan 2.jpg



    Fabulous playing from BPO. As it's the beauty of the work that is paramount in my mind this gets the vote. I know the Kundry is controversial but it works for me.
    Last edited by DavidA; Oct-24-2017 at 19:37.

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wkasimer View Post
    The singers agree to them because it makes the role easier, and they're not paid by the note.
    I'll bet they would sing the whole thing twice if they were!
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  18. #59
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post


    Parsifal.jpg

    Great performance - perhaps the finest on disc. Wonderful cast with Ludwig absolutely superb in Act 2 appearance. Karajan cast two Kundrys but Ludwig is absolutely definitive, Berry is malevolent and Hotter at his best. Uhl a bit over parted but fine.
    One major drawback is the poor recording quality from a radio broadcast.
    If it had decent sound, if the Parsifal were not Fritz Uhl, and if Christa Ludwig had done Act 1 as well as Act 2, Karajan's live recording from the Vienna State Opera would be more competitive. As it is, I still find this version of considerable "historical" interest and definitely worth hearing.

    Sound quality is probably more important in this subtle, sensuously beautiful score than in any of Wagner's other works. This recording is just listenable. Unfortunately, too, Uhl is not in good form and does some weak, tonally unsupported singing at times, especially in Act 2. And it's a good thing the over-the-hill Elisabeth Hongen doesn't have to sound seductive in Act 1, since she's rather painful. But the rest of the cast is very strong, and it's always good to hear Karajan in the opera house and away from the control room.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    If it had decent sound, if the Parsifal were not Fritz Uhl, and if Christa Ludwig had done Act 1 as well as Act 2, Karajan's live recording from the Vienna State Opera would be more competitive. As it is, I still find this version of considerable "historical" interest and definitely worth hearing.

    Sound quality is probably more important in this subtle, sensuously beautiful score than in any of Wagner's other works. This recording is just listenable. Unfortunately, too, Uhl is not in good form and does some weak, tonally unsupported singing at times, especially in Act 2. And it's a good thing the over-the-hill Elisabeth Hongen doesn't have to sound seductive in Act 1, since she's rather painful. But the rest of the cast is very strong, and it's always good to hear Karajan in the opera house and away from the control room.
    I must say I don't find Uhl too bad in the role. Hongen of course is the 'penitent' Kundry rather than the seductress but I would still have preferred to hear Ludwig in the whole role. But Act 2 is fabulous - pity about the sound. Janowitz btw is one of the flower maidens!

    I agree about the sound however. Hopefully one day some enterprising company will issue more of Karajan's live recordings. unfortunately most of those we have are in limited sound.
    Last edited by DavidA; Oct-24-2017 at 21:27.

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