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Thread: Wagner recordings that everyone should own

  1. #31
    Senior Member joen_cph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Personal taste aside, it needs to be pointed out that the various Knappertsbusch Parsifals recorded between 1951 and 1964 vary significantly, notably in tempo and in some other details of interpretation as well, not to mention casting. It simply isn't fair or right to generalize about them. But if we understand the way Kna made music, that variation is what we would expect. Kna was the very opposite of mechanical in his music-making; like Furtwangler, he exemplified an older tradition in which one didn't simply set a tempo and make the music conform to it. What I noticed about his conducting right away was the way the music seemed to move of its own inner necessity and to breathe, like something alive and organic. The lack of rigidity may occasionally mean a slight loss of the clinical precision we in the age of "product" have come to expect, but which anyone who listens to recordings of musicians from the early 20th century will know has not always been considered normal or even desirable. This is not "sloppiness" but spontaneity. If clinical precision is what you want, Kegel will certainly give it to you. But his is not a kind of music-making Wagner would have recognized, or else he would have recognized it as the work of a student conductor who still had to focus on mastering baton technique. Metronomes are for students, and the attainment of freedom from their ticking is the goal of a real Romantic artist.
    (...)
    Agreeing with a good deal of your post, I regularly recommend recordings by say Mengelberg, Scherchen and Furtwangler here, due to exactly the characteristics you mention. But the tempi and pulse chosen by Kegel would then likewise mirror that interpretational freedom. I don't hear it as classicism, or a case similar to machine-like, so-called HIP-style, that has marred many recent recordings of Baroque music.

    And orchestral sloppiness, often so pronounced with Scherchen and less so with Mengelberg and Furtwangler, is simply sloppiness, no matter the approach, and it works against the ambitions of the conductor - also if we then choose the negative word 'clinical' about precision. Sloppiness and roughness are not positive qualities in themselves (or rather, only rarely, since for example Scherchen could also use orchestral chaos as a willed effect in the first part of the finale of Beethoven's 9th, as a mood picture. But that is a rare occurrence, and can be related to an intelligent perception of the content of the score). Consciously delayed, or quickened, entries and accents by orchestral players can have dramatic and sublime effects, but that's not sloppiness either.
    Last edited by joen_cph; Jun-29-2021 at 06:35.

  2. #32
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by joen_cph View Post
    Agreeing with a good deal of your post, I regularly recommend recordings by say Mengelberg, Scherchen and Furtwangler here, due to exactly the characteristics you mention. But the tempi and pulse chosen by Kegel would then likewise mirror that interpretational freedom. I don't hear it as classicism, or a case similar to the machine-like, so-called HIP-style, that has marred many recent recordings of Baroque music.

    And orchestral sloppiness, often so pronounced with Scherchen and less so with Mengelberg and Furtwangler, is simply sloppiness, no matter the approach, and it works against the ambitions of the conductor - also if we then choose the negative word 'clinical' about precision. Sloppiness and roughness are not positive qualities in themselves (or rather, only rarely, since for example Scherchen could also use orchestral chaos as a willed effect in the first part of the finale of Beethoven's 9th, as a mood picture. But that is a rare occurrence, and can be related to an intelligent perception of the score). Consciously delayed, or quickened, entries and accents by orchestral players can have dramatic and sublime effects, but that's not sloppiness either.
    I certainly agree that "sloppiness" is not a positive term. Certainly musicians generally try to avoid sounding sloppy. There's great value in making sounds at the right time. But when conductors work with players in such a way as to inspire them to make music rather than to force them to, imperfection of ensemble - which might be perceived as "sloppiness" - might be the occasional result. There are many recordings of singers, dating from the early 1900s, in which the singer and accompanist are not always together. There are orchestral recordings from that era in which string players use portamento, and the individual players don't execute it with perfect unanimity. These aren't instances of special effects chosen for artistic reasons, but neither do they indicate something as negative as "sloppiness." They're simply a byproduct of spontaneous and deeply felt music-making, and I think it was recognized back then that the pursuit of surgical (if you dislike "clinical") precision was either not worthwhile or was in fact inimical to the sense of spontaneity which was of overriding value. When I listen to Caruso surging ahead of the beat or lagging behind it, modifying the tempo as the spirit moves him and daring his pianist to keep up, what I hear is not fairly describable by negative terms such as "sloppiness." What I hear is musicians for whom the quality of letting, rather than making, music happen is paramount, and for whom the expressive language of music is so natural and deeply felt that the mechanics of producing sounds are transcended and in the highest sense rendered irrelevant. But more than that, I realize that perfect precision of ensemble, now expected by people who have perfect recordings to compare everything to, cannot always convey that deep meaning - can, in fact, interfere with it or preclude it. Reality itself is imperfect, life is always a little off balance because it is dynamic and not static, and the hint of frailty and fallibility conveyed by music-making which ever so subtly declares that physical perfection is irrelevant can actually make music a truer language of the soul and can add to its ability to move us.

    At the very least, I've never felt that a very occasional imperfection of ensemble emanating from the pit at Bayreuth in my 1962 Parsifal was any sort of problem. In that performance I find Knappertsbusch to be a treasurable example of letting, rather than making, the music happen. I feel, in fact, that the music is simply there, a virtual product of nature, being itself rather than someone's conception of it. I don't get this same feeling from other prominent recorded performances: not from Karajan's, which is all silk and perfume like much of his music-making, and not from Levine's, in which solemnity becomes stasis from want of impulse. Kna's conducting is all impulse, or gives that feeling in live performance (he hated the studio). He had the secret of letting music live.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jun-29-2021 at 07:40.

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  4. #33
    Senior Member Orfeo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeoPiano View Post
    Thanks for the recommendations. I’ve listened to parts of the Reiner Tristan on YouTube, and the sound was ok, but not something I would purchase and listen to a lot. Is it any better on CD?
    It's quite better on CD (not all that much, but noticeable).
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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post
    Holländer: *Keilberth 1955 (live mono)
    I won't quibble about the choice of the Keilberth 1955 Dutchman, but if you're going with that choice, why not buy the stereo incarnation issued by Testament? Personally, I prefer the Knappertsbusch from the same year (better Erik, but only in mono).

    Kubelik, suggested by Moore, probably has a more balanced cast, but may be almost impossible to buy cheaply (especially in a good transfer--the Myto transfer is the worst available of this recording).
    I'd call the Myto "least good" rather than "worst". I've owned all three commercial issues, and while the Myto isn't quite as good as the Calig or the Arts Music, it's perfectly OK if you can find it cheaply.

    My "essentials":

    Dutchman: Knappertsbusch, Bayreuth 1955.
    Tannhauser: Sawallisch, Bayreuth 1961.
    Lohengrin: von Matacic, Bayreuth 1959.
    Meistersinger: Kubelik 1967
    Tristan: Karajan, Bayreuth 1952; Furtwangler studio
    Ring integrale: Keilberth 1955
    Rheingold: Karajan studio
    Walkure: Furtwangler/VPO studio
    Siegfried: Goodall/ENO
    Gotterdammeruing: Solti studio
    Parsifal: Knappertsbusch, Bayreuth 1964; Kubelik 1980.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HenryPenfold View Post
    It's not hype. But of course, it's not for everyone - we're all different.
    Goddall is 100% hype. It is a TERRIBLE recording. Goddall had absolutely no insight into this work, and his excessively (and that’s an understatement) plodding tempos completely undermine the dramatic thrust of the work. What a **** he must have been to be such an egomaniac to conduct a work like this. I have no, and will never have, any respect for this man. What he did was in complete and direct opposition to the composers intentions. I’m all for conductors making their own mark on a work, but what he did is inexcusable.

    Kna is the opposite. While his tempos are slower than most, he understood the work and his slower tempos don’t impact the dramatic thrust of the work. Kna was a miracle.

    All in my opinion, of course, and no offense intended, I just absolutely loathe Goodall.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    Well it’s not really hype when the conductors are masters of their craft , is it? On the one hand we have Kegel, who sets a new land-speed record for Parsifal and on the other we have Barenboim who does an adequate job, neither of whom by any stretch of the imagination reveal anything we don’t already know.
    Why is it important to reveal anything we don’t already know. I’m not a Barenboim fan in the least - I call him Barenboim the Boring, but I think when a conductor tries to reveal things we can get Goodall’s Ring, which was a disaster in every way except the sensational singing. Yeah, he told me something I didn’t know - that I don’t want a Ring recording that takes 3 days to listen to (well, 17+ hours). It’s ridiculous. Yeah, he might have showed us something new, but it was a failure and I just can’t believe people buy the hype that this is one of the best Ring recordings, when it is perhaps the worst due to the complete failure of Goodall.
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    Quote Originally Posted by joen_cph View Post
    Kna recordings have actually often been accused of being 'sloppy' and 'rough' in the orchestral playing. So has Scherchen of course, which I personally find more interesting, but who did almost no Wagner (or Bruckner).
    The OP didn't want historical sound either, which might work against Knappertsbusch.

    But I've made my points, and admittedly they go against most critics.
    Kna’s ‘57 and ‘58 Ring recordings on Walhall are miraculous! I’m generally a fan of faster conducting in Wagner (Boulez), but Kna hammers me with emotion I cannot explain.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orfeo View Post
    For my money:
    • The Ring Cycle: Barenboim and the Bayreuth (Warner)
    While this is one of the few recordings where I think Barenhoim is actually successful and not boring, Anne Evans just isn’t adequate as a top Brunnhilde, which rules this set out as a top recommendation.
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    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    Why is it important to reveal anything we don’t already know. I’m not a Barenboim fan in the least - I call him Barenboim the Boring, but I think when a conductor tries to reveal things we can get Goodall’s Ring, which was a disaster in every way except the sensational singing. Yeah, he told me something I didn’t know - that I don’t want a Ring recording that takes 3 days to listen to (well, 17+ hours). It’s ridiculous. Yeah, he might have showed us something new, but it was a failure and I just can’t believe people buy the hype that this is one of the best Ring recordings, when it is perhaps the worst due to the complete failure of Goodall.
    Not every gets it. But that's often the way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Parsifal - The 1962 Knappertsbusch performance from Bayreuth (Philips), in clear stereo sound that captures well the Bayreuth acoustics, is a beautiful, dedicated performance and is strongly cast across the board. It's a classic and I recommend it highly. There are now many Parsifals from Bayreuth, and people have various preferences, but all the other Knappertsbusch performances and all others from the '50s are in mono. Of studio versions, the Kubelik (DG) may be the best, but the Solti (Decca), often underrated IMO, is well-sung and sonically splendid. Karajan's (EMI) has many fans, but the cast is uneven and on the whole not competitive with those mentioned.
    I looked into getting the 1962 Knappertsbusch Parsifal, and I noticed that there are multiple versions of it on CD. There is the version on Philips Classics, Philips 50, and the Originals series. Which one do you have and which one would you recommend? I assume the Philips 50 and the Originals series sound better than the Philips Classics because they are remastered, but I wouldn't know because I've only sampled from the Originals series. Also, is there a libretto included? I have the Barenboim recording already but it didn't come with a libretto so that would be nice to have.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I can't compare the various releases as to sound - I can't imagine any of them being poor - but I have the Philips 50 and it did come with a libretto. Of course you need a high-powered microscope to read it. I sigh nostalgically, remembering the lovely large libretto from the LP, which I bought when it was first released and I was a Wagner newbie. The album cover had a striking photo of the Grail ceremony from the Wieland Wagner production, and in fact the Philips 50 CD cover has a different photo from the same production. I believe that that starkly abstract, delicately lit staging of Parsifal was the longest-running of all Wieland Wagner's creations; it was just too good to replace quickly. Some people said that seeing it, and hearing the superb artists who sang and played under Wieland's direction, gave them one of the greatest spiritual experiences of their lives. I think some of that special quality comes across in the recording, which creates for me a sense, not of a performance, but of real life in an enchanted alternate universe.

    In those days I thought Parsifal was a miracle transcending any other music I knew, which also seems to have been the reaction of Mahler, Reger, Wolf and Sibelius when they were beginning their careers as composers. Even Nietzsche, years after he had denounced what he understood as Wagner's religion, said that Parsifal's music "cuts through the soul like a knife" and makes other music seem like a "misunderstanding." I'm old and jaded now, and not easily overwhelmed, but in the right mood Parsifal can still strike me like an arrow to the heart with its strange and incomparable blend of pain and exaltation. I think that only a man as full of contradictions as Wagner could have found music so expressive of spiritual corruption and despair and then found the music that releases us from it.

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    Senior Member Barbebleu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    Why is it important to reveal anything we don’t already know. I’m not a Barenboim fan in the least - I call him Barenboim the Boring, but I think when a conductor tries to reveal things we can get Goodall’s Ring, which was a disaster in every way except the sensational singing. Yeah, he told me something I didn’t know - that I don’t want a Ring recording that takes 3 days to listen to (well, 17+ hours). It’s ridiculous. Yeah, he might have showed us something new, but it was a failure and I just can’t believe people buy the hype that this is one of the best Ring recordings, when it is perhaps the worst due to the complete failure of Goodall.
    I don’t think I said it was important to reveal anything new. In my opinion I don’t feel that Barenboim added much to our understanding of Parsifal but that could be said about many conductors of this elusive work. And I don’t entirely agree with your assessment of Goodall’s Ring. Slow certainly but there are many beautiful parts and some glorious singing. It’s certainly a strain on the concentration though.
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  19. #43
    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeoPiano View Post
    I looked into getting the 1962 Knappertsbusch Parsifal, and I noticed that there are multiple versions of it on CD. There is the version on Philips Classics, Philips 50, and the Originals series. Which one do you have and which one would you recommend? I assume the Philips 50 and the Originals series sound better than the Philips Classics because they are remastered, but I wouldn't know because I've only sampled from the Originals series. Also, is there a libretto included?
    I have this recording in two forms- the original Philips release (actually the first CD I bought 35 or so years ago) and the Originals. Both include libretto and translation, and the sound is identical - the Originals cover says that it's "96Hz - 24-bit REMASTERING", but I hear no difference on a decent audio system or with headphones. The "Philips 50" issue was not remastered, unlike most of the other recordings in that series. One thing that has annoyed me about this recording on CD (all incarnations) is the unnecessary division of the second and third acts, neither of which is close to 80 minutes in length.

    Buy whichever is cheapest. That said, I think that the 1964 is a better performance, in lesser but still perfectly adequate sound.
    Last edited by wkasimer; Jun-30-2021 at 13:53.

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  21. #44
    Senior Member lextune's Avatar
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    For high quality modern sound all the best recommendations have already been mentioned. But I'll add my two cents.

    Forced to choose a single version of Der Ring Des Nibelungen with the best combination of sound quality/singing/orchestra, my vote would go to Solti.

    I also thought I might add a DVD recommendation, (they are Operas/Music Dramas after all). Having seen every available version of Der Ring Des Nibelungen, I can say that for this listener, Barenboim/Kupfer absolutely towers over all the other competition.

    https://www.amazon.com/Ring-Nibelung.../dp/B008VNIA32

    The staging in every DVD version leaves something to be desired, the Levine version being the most faithful, but the singing on the Barenboim is just so much better overall. John Tomlinson as Wotan/The Wanderer, was at his absolute peak.

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  23. #45
    Senior Member Orfeo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gellio View Post
    While this is one of the few recordings where I think Barenhoim is actually successful and not boring, Anne Evans just isn’t adequate as a top Brunnhilde, which rules this set out as a top recommendation.
    Really? Despite Ms. Evans' limitations, this set overall is a huge success and a tremendously well put together project by everyone involved. The overall value of the set outweighs whatever a singer's inadequacy might be.
    David A. Hollingsworth (dholling)

    ~All good art is about something deeper than it admits.
    Roger Ebert

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