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Wagner Challenge update - Favourite MONO Parsifal - I

Winners



Wagner
PARSIFAL WWV 111 Live recording
Wolfgang Windgassen
Ludwig Weber
George London
Kurt Böhme
Martha Mödl
Hermann Uhde

Karl Terkal
Werner Faulhaber

Rita Streich
Erika Zimmermann
Hanna Ludwig
Hertha Töpper

Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Hans Knappertsbusch
Andromeda (1952/2013 Remastered Edition)




Wagner
PARSIFAL WWV 111 Live recording
Wolfgang Windgassen
Josef Greindl
Hans Hotter
Theo Adam
Martha Mödl
Gustav Neidlinger

Gerhard Stolze
Hugo Kratz

Ilse Hollweg
Friedl Pöltinger
Hetty Plümacher
Dorothea Siebert

Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Hans Knappertsbusch
Archipel (1954/2005 Remastered Edition)
 

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Wagner Challenge update - Favourite MONO Parsifal - II

Honourable Mentions

3rd



Wagner
PARSIFAL WWV 111 Live recording
Hans Beirer
Josef Greindl
Thomas Stewart
David Ward
Régine Crespin
Gustav Neidlinger

Wilfried Krug
Theo Adam

Gundula Janowitz
Ruth Hesse
Ruth-Margret Pütz
Dorothea Siebert

Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Hans Knappertsbusch
Myto (1960/2011 Remastered Edition)


4th



Wagner
PARSIFAL WWV 111 Live recording
Wolfgang Windgassen
Ludwig Weber
George London
Arnold van Mill
Martha Mödl
Hermann Uhde

Walther Fritz
Werner Faulhaber

Hildegard Schünemann
Erika Zimmermann
Hanna Ludwig
Paula Brivkalne

Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Hans Knappertsbusch
Naxos (1951/2003 Remastered Edition)


5th



Wagner
PARSIFAL WWV 111
Günther Treptow
Ludwig Weber
Paul Schöffler
Hans Braun
Anny Konetzni
Adolf Vogel

Hugo Meyer-Welfing
Harald Pröglhoff

Emmy Funk
Elisabeth Rutgers
Judith Hellwig
Sieglinde Wagner

Wiener Staatsoper
Wiener Symphoniker
Rudolf Moralt
Walhall (1948/2005 Remastered Edition)


6th



Wagner
PARSIFAL WWV 111 Live recording
Hans Beirer
Jerome Hines
Eberhard Wächter
Josef Greindl
Régine Crespin
Toni Blackenheim

Fritz Uhl
Donald Bell

Lotte Schädle
Hildegard Schünemann
Gertraud Prenzlow
Dorothea Siebert

Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Hans Knappertsbusch
Andromeda (1958/2014 Reissue Edition)


Top 7-18:
07: Knappertsbusch BFO 63
08: Knappertsbusch BFO 61
09: Knappertsbusch BFO 64
10: Cluytens Scala 60
11: Boulez BFO 67
12: Leinsdorf Met 60
13: Krauss BFO 53
14: Knappertsbusch BFO 59
15: Knappertsbusch BFO 57
16: Knappertsbusch BFO 56
17: Gui RAI 50
18: Stiedry Met 54

It's not easy to write about this challenge two weeks after its completion, and currently through my 8th Meistersinger. Not particularly in the mood. The good news is that I think I found here my Holy Grail, but through an interesting combination.

The first topic to address here is the existence (XD) of historical Parsifals not staged in Bayreuth. The immense majority of them didn't make the top. But I feel specially sad about certain ones.

The Metropolitan broadcast conducted by Fritz Stiedry sinks in the bottom. The sound is decent to say the least, and that can mean a waste of cast, with Hotter and Varnay in their prime and in main roles. The Transformation music bells, dreadful. Svanholm is a fine Parsifal but usually rushes in Act II, and Varnay doesn't have a good evening.

The Vittorio Gui rare recording with Maria Callas as Kundry surprises for the sound quality in 1951. But I can barely stand the Italian here. Callas is the highlight and her Act II raises her to one of the best Kundrys, with the one inconvenient of sacrificing seduction for bel canto.

The Opera Depot release of the Pierre Boulez performance at Bayreuth in 1967 suffers from flat source tape. There barely are layers that make me enjoy the music or the singing. If Orfeo ever releases this I would be very happy, because the cast is up to the expectations. Ludwig may sound quite tame as Kundry even in 1967, though this Act II is superbly sung. James King has not yet exploded as the title character and Franz Crass' Gurnemanz is a nice job, but many things outside them remain tedious, even with such a fast reading as Boulez's.

Other recordings outside Bayreuth don't even deserve mention unless you ask me so.

When we step inside the mighty Bayreuther Festspiele, the magic begins. First: the bells of the transformation music. Second: sound quality. And third: Hans Knappertsbusch. In this Bayreuth collection, I regret to say that some of these stand quite low in the rank, usually for lack of ideas, repeated cast or important singing issues as they happen with Ramón Vinay (ugh!) or that cursed evening in 1956.

I have to address first the Clemens Krauss broadcast with Vinay's debut in 1953. The main trio: Mödl, Vinay and Weber (slightly), do not perform as well as I would like. Weber is giving his farewell, and Mödl struggles in Act II for the second year. This 1953 was the year of two Brünnhildes. Next to her, Vinay while being an accurate Tristan, slides at this Parsifal. Waste of a role.

Then we find Hans Knappertsbusch, the ultimate Parsifal conductor that has marveled me. The negative remark is that some excellent performances in the top 5 do nothing but point out when someone messes up in three particular years:

Bayreuth 1956 is the most notable: a rollercoaster. The tape noise is almost unbearable. We've got discount Siegfried with Ramón Vinay in Acts I and II, showing his most erratic side. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau passes without brilliance the Amfortas exam. Kna is unfortunately without inspiration this evening. But nothing prepared me for Acts II and III. In Act II, Blackenheim is a nice Klingsor, but compared to previous years, Mödl and Vinay are embarrassing in their roles, to the point that Mödl loses spectacularly her voice in the second part of Act II and brings the recording to disaster. She would have two more Kundrys with Kna, but always tamer. Act III is conceptually solid, coming back to 1951 with a prominent Vinay (!) and a hurtful Amfortas by DFD.

Bayreuth 1957 suffers also from defective source tape and has a good number of jumps and a variable SQ. Walhall never states it is an "Audiophile remastering". The conducting here is fine, but the cast is dim. London's Amfortas and Greindl's Gurnemanz come back, and both show their experience nicely. Vinay and Mödl repeat their roles once again. Vinay has quite improved his interpretation of Parsifal throughout the opera but the Amfortas section is his bête noire. Mödl balances herself to be alive and never shines.

Bayreuth 1959 has a problem: to be considered a re-arrange of the fresher 1958 which made the top 6. Mödl cannot compare with her age to Régine Crespin. The sound is cleaner compared to the previous year, but after many performances, I don't feel anything new in Kna's conducting.

After some dull late 50s recordings, upper in the top, we arrive at some early 60s performances:

Bayreuth 1964 had the main disadvantage of being the last in the queue, after many, many great performances of Knappertsbusch. This one had it very difficult to improve them and I was already tired. Only the fast conducting and the presence of an excellent Jon Vickers were the news. The rest of the singers don't add up. Hotter and Neidlinger sound quite burnt. Ericson sings Kundry and while the first parts do not suit her a lot, she delivers an enjoyable second part of Act II.

Bayreuth 1961 has one problem: the existence of the commercial Philips 1962 recording with almost the same cast in identical voices, and in Stereo. The night was not really special as the commercial had them actually in good shape already. This felt like an unnecessary listen. No excitement. Neidlinger confirms himself as the best Klingsor ever and Thomas is still a singer I don't love. Dalis is quite good in this recording.

Bayreuth 1963 (YouTube source) shows no significant differences with 1961 and 1962, although the sound is excellent. What I enjoy the best is both George London, exquisite as Amfortas, and the Windgassen comeback that nails Act II. Dalis nails the first scene of this Act. It's higher in the top because of the main role singer, but not enough to make it to the top.


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And after all these fine to average Knappertsbusch recordings, here is my top 5 Parsifal recordings + the very fine Moralt studio recording.

6th: Hans Knappertsbusch, Bayreuther Festspiele 1958

This one was the big revolution in the middle of the Kna Parsifals. 1957 had already wore out the main cast and it was time for a change. This recording makes the debut of Jerome Hines as Gurnemanz, Régine Crespin as Kundry, Eberhard Wächter as Amfortas and Hans Beirer as Parsifal. The fresh cast gives new blood to Knappertsbusch, who renews the drama. I would say this is like 1951, but with faster tempi: there is a new energy in the cast that was absent from 1953. Wächter as Amfortas is a surprise, and his first scene is perfectly acted and conducted. It's more intimate. Crespin becomes the success of the evening with a fiery Kundry in the whole Act II. Beirer is very good but would have a better performance later. His attacks in the main sections are really nice. He is still quite far from Windgassen. Act III is a good closing piece.

5th: Rudolf Moralt, Wiener Symphoniker 1948

The only non-Kna to make it here. It's a studio recording with exceptional clarity for the orchestra and chorus, though Weber's Gurnemanz is very close to the microphone. He is the soul of this recording and it's very important to carry it in his shoulders. He makes me feel it Günther Treptow reminds me of Siegfried Jerusalem, with fine voice for Parsifal. Schöffel sings Amfortas well but barely reveals emotion. Konetzni (Kundry) and Treptow have ease in the sharps but occasionally sing without power, confident in the microphones.

4th: Hans Knappertsbusch, Bayreuther Festspiele 1951

The biggest let-down. This one was one of your favourites and, even being the first of Knappertsbusch to be listened to, it never struck me. It's really well sung except for a Windgassen in diapers that annoys me with his whiny Parsifal. Second though, is the slow, soporific pace of Knappertsbusch despite the really good conducting, like in the Amfortas "Erbarme, erbarme!" full of dramatic impulse. Weber, Uhde, London and Mödl are in prime voice and excellent in the performance. The sound is not a wonder either.

3rd: Hans Knappertsbusch, Bayreuther Festspiele 1960

We go back to the late 50, remembering 1958 and the shake-up. However, this is actually a mixture of the new blood of that year with the best singers in Bayreuth. Crespin comes back for her second and last Kundry, and Thomas Stewart debuts as Amfortas. Josef Greindl and Gustav Neidlinger play Gurnemanz and Klingsor. This performance, although great overall, could be divided in two: before and after the kiss. There is no flaw before the kiss. Stewart is a prominent Amfortas (not often noticed); Crespin a great, seductive Kundry; Beirer has nailed his Parsifal; Greindl keeps the pace; Neidlinger is a sorcerer Klingsor, enrapturing; and the flowermaidens are led by Gundula Janowitz. From the kiss, the thrill vanishes a bit. Crespin and Beirer save their energy without stopping singing really well. Act III is quite good in the long scene Gurnemanz/Parsifal, with great conducting in the second transformation music. The ending is not excellent but it confirms that this is a really good effort. The sound is excellent.

2nd: Hans Knappertsbusch, Bayreuther Festspiele 1954

Now we go back again to the early 50s with the two best Parsifals. These two are very inspired in the conducting. This one: drama, strength, impulse, grandiloquence. A fresh Hans Hotter plays Amfortas for the only time, following the same pace as London, and almost on par with him. Josef Greindl is a new, imposing Gurnemanz. Mödl is back to her prime after two decent efforts as Kundry in 1952 and 1953, with a really good Act I. Windgassen is tamed enough for the Parsifal role (see 1952). Act III breaks the intensity of the performance and brings broader, more beautiful tempi than Act I. Greindl nails Gurnemanz finally and Windgassen proves himself as valuable for the role.

But the main reason to get this recording is the superb Act II, never repeated by Knappertsbusch and only comparable with Mödl 1951. Hermann Uhde looks amateur next to the freshest Klingsor by Gustav Neidlinger. And here, with the intense conducting, Mödl brings an explosive Kundry on par with a Parsifal under control by Windgassen. Unbeatable!


1st: Hans Knappertsbusch, Bayreuther Festspiele 1952

And finally, this recording is the best Parsifal of this challenge in my opinion. The style develops the ideas of 1951 with contemplation but without abusing the broad tempo. The cast and the chorus, almost identical, has improved significantly. Acts I and III are excellent. Weber performs his best Gurnemanz in Bayreuth, not only in the highlights, like a real Heldenbass. I really like how Knappertsbusch is listening to him. George London also improves his already excellent Amfortas and the Erwarme magic is here again and Mödl's Kundry makes her best entrance scene. Act II lowers the bar with a very fine Uhde as Klingsor but a decent, rough Kundry by Mödl. The good news is the new maturity in Windgassen. Act III is really intense, superb for London and Weber. It would be my choice if it weren't for Act II.

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My verdict for this challenge is that, while the Knappertsbusch commercial recording in 1962 is compulsory purchase, my Holy Grail can be found in a combination of:

  • Act I: 1952 (Weber/London/Windgassen/Mödl)
  • Act II: 1954 (Neidlinger/Windgassen/Mödl)
  • Act III: 1952 (Weber/London/Windgassen/Mödl)
I just hope that Archipel soon makes 1954 available again. It's not worth for me to get a complete collection of Kna Parsifals, but some are worth it.
 

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My verdict for this challenge is that, while the Knappertsbusch commercial recording in 1962 is compulsory purchase, my Holy Grail can be found in a combination of:

  • Act I: 1952 (Weber/London/Windgassen/Mödl)
  • Act II: 1954 (Neidlinger/Windgassen/Mödl)
  • Act III: 1952 (Weber/London/Windgassen/Mödl)

I just hope that Archipel soon makes 1954 available again. It's not worth for me to get a complete collection of Kna Parsifals, but some are worth it.
 

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Amazing amount of work there by Granate, many good observations and comments........

We are at odds over Jess Thomas who I love (and Astrid Varnay in general) I am surprised that Konya never recorded Parsifal at Bayreuth with usual stellar cast, I have seen Konya Parsifals from a couple other venues.....

I must go back and check the 56 Bayreuth and see if it was really that bad.... :lol:
 

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Amazing amount of work there by Granate, many good observations and comments........

We are at odds over Jess Thomas who I love (and Astrid Varnay in general) I am surprised that Konya never recorded Parsifal at Bayreuth with usual stellar cast, I have seen Konya Parsifals from a couple other venues.....

I must go back and check the 56 Bayreuth and see if it was really that bad.... :lol:
I second your comment about Thomas. Let me know about the '56 Parsifal. I haven't got time myself to check it out. I treated myself to the Eulenburg full score for Lohengrin so I'm going to be listening to a couple of Lohengrins next.
 
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Thanks Granate for the hard work. Much food for thought there. It's interesting how people hear things differently.
 
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Amazing amount of work there by Granate, many good observations and comments........

We are at odds over Jess Thomas who I love (and Astrid Varnay in general) I am surprised that Konya never recorded Parsifal at Bayreuth with usual stellar cast, I have seen Konya Parsifals from a couple other venues.....

I must go back and check the 56 Bayreuth and see if it was really that bad.... :lol:
Anyone who listens to that number of Parsifals deserves the Victoria Cross for valour! :lol:
 

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Anyone who listens to that number of Parsifals deserves the Victoria Cross for valour! :lol:
Or at the very least a stay on Der Zauberberg in the company of Hans Castorp!
 

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was watching the stein parsifal on youtube with jerusalem and randova. act 2 is very good. but was wondering if parsifal is cursed to be lost, how does he find his way back to the grail castle in act 3?
 

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I'm listening to it on YouTube. Why buy it at all? YouTube has saved me a lot of money; I rarely buy anything any more, and wish I had bought less in the past.
I know this feeling. I could be retired by now if it weren't for my record(gone), cassette(gone), CD/DVD collections.
And YouTube is literally the most transformative thing to happen to the arts in my lifetime.
 

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Wagner
PARSIFAL WWV 111 Live recording
Jess Thomas
Hans Hotter
George London
Ludwig Weber
Irene Dalis
Gustav Neidlinger

Niels Möller
David Ward

Gundula Janowitz
Anja Silja
Claudia Hellmann
Usrula Boerse

Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Hans Knappertsbusch
MYTO (1961/2012 Remastered Edition)


Hello again. To finish my summer of my favourite Bayreuth Wagner recordings, I had been playing some Parsifals from 1966, 1967 finished today, and I picked curiosity in this set of Knappertsbusch done the year before the Philips recording with almost the same cast (L. Weber instead of Talvela as Titurel). Unfortunately, the Stereo recording has gone OOP (doubled the price).

It's still very soon for me to compare both, as I'm finishing Act II of this one. Judging by some excerpts on Spotify (of both), microphones in the Philips recording are a bit elusive and miss the beginning of sentences in the main characters sometimes. This MYTO recording features constantly the voice of the cue guiding the actors, sometimes annoying in Act II. There is also a lot of clarity in the Stereo recording, but generally it wouldn't compare to the richness of a modern recording. MYTO offers probably the best source possible. Everything is in mono and forward, crystal-clear. For speakers, it should work wonders.

And what about performance? I'm growing love for the silky Irene Dalis, whose performance is actually full of fire but her flames feel different from a Martha Mödl in her prime or Astrid Varnay in 1966. Surprisingly, I found Hans Hotter's first Gurnemanz to be really fresh, really likeable for me. And I think his singing in 1962 is a bit more tiresome (1964 stays fresh in my memory and he sounded unbearable) I have no complaint of his Act I. George London is the showstopper of the performance. I can notice him everytime he sings Amfortas, even in the tough first scene when he shows up. Together with Neidlinger's experienced Klingsor, the most benefited from Knappertsbush's baton. Jess Thomas's debut in Parsifal still stands in a second rate when it comes to my book of favourites, very far away from Windgassen, let alone Sandor Kónya and even the most inexperienced James King. His performance here is still really grey, even compared to his energetic Lohengrin in Bayreuth the following 1962. I have the feeling, as I didn't play him enough in 1962, that he's much more dramatically involved in this debut. It sounds realistic.

I think I'm going to get it soon to complement with the iffy sound of Bayreuth 1952. Since then, I don't hold admiration anymore for the 1960 Bayreuth performance.
 

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A modern classic. Of course Rene Pape's Gurnemanz is stunningly sung and I think richly perceptive, but the cast overall is strong enough, Gary Lehman is a susprisingly effective Parsifal.

I am no fan of Gergiev usually, but there is a special atmosphere to this recording, and a heightened sense of drama.

It's not my favourite (that would be a tie between Knappertsbusch '51 and Barenboim) but I listen to it just as often.
 

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There is a solution for Knap lovers to quickly catch up from asian vendors with the Bayreuth Parsifals, complete boxset but still missing is the mythical 55 Parsifal.......perhaps still kept hidden away at Castle Monsalvat (woodduck knows the secret path here)



Tonight I am listening to 51-52 Parsifals, one thought that occurred to me that as great iconic as Neidlinger became singing the role of Klingsor, Uhde gives no quarter and perhaps the best performances we have post 1951 of this role....also great to hear younger Windgassen is such fresh natural voice as the perfect fool

 
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