This might just be the best Parsifal out there. Once again, Kubelik proves to be the great unsung Wagner conductor, outclassing Karajan and Knappertsbusch and Barenboim etc. The singing is splendid, especially James King and Kurt Moll (though I'd certainly recommend the live '64 Bayreuth for Vickers' superlative Parsifal performance). Perfect stereo sound. Highly recommended!
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
MASTERLY WAGNER CONDUCTINGOct. 4 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Who are the great post-War Wagner conductors? Knappertsbusch? Krauss? Solti? Karajan (if that's your taste)? Barenboim? Goodall? For the connoisseurs, perhaps, there's Kempe and Keilberth. Maybe even Jochum. But the list seldom includes Kubelik. Yet on disc there's a wonderfully conducted Lohengrin, let down by Gwyneth Jones on one of her squallier days, but enhanced by a beautiful Elsa from Janowitz. There's what is probably the best all round Meistersinger on disc which is again wonderfully conducted. And there's this Parsifal.
This is Wagner conducting of the first order on practically all counts. First, orchestral balance. Kubelik is wonderfully sensitive to the combinations and colours of Wagner's score, inspired by the unique acoustic the composer had created at Bayreuth. To take just the Prelude, the balance between strings and clarinet, followed by the addition of the cor anglais in the opening theme is judged to perfection. Then the repeat of the same theme on the trumpet over pulsing 3+2 chords in the upper woodwind and arpeggio strings cuts through just as it should. Come the development section the addition of Horn 1 to Horn 3 at the top of the arch of that same melody enriches the texture perfectly. And so it goes on right through the opera.
Then the pacing. Overall, Kubelik strikes a happy median between Knappertsbusch and Boulez. But he understand the ebb and flow of the piece so well, the mastery of what Wagner called `the Art of Transition'. So the profounder moments in the Grail Castle have all the space and air they need while much of Act 2 is taken at an urgent, exciting pace. Indeed, unlike most conductors, Kubelik seems to see the Second Act as the crux of the piece. (In this he goes along with Wieland Wagner whose graphic chart of the Parsifal Cross showing all the action radiating from the kiss is well worth investigating.) In retrospect, the whole opera under Kubelik seems to be one great, balanced arch with the Kiss as its keystone. And this is the most comprehensive and fulfilling performance of this Act that I know.
Finally, Kubelik really brings out the modernity of the piece to the full. Harmonically, much of Parsifal and especially Act 3 mark a huge advance over anything in Tristan. And here you also have all those stark juxtapositions of the chromatic with the squarely diatonic (e.g. the Faith motif and the Dresden Amen theme). What I've never noticed before listening to this performance is how advanced it is rhythmically as well. So many of those chromatic themes and motifs involve syncopations and tied notes across bar-lines that totally do away with the tyranny of the bar. It is often as hard to tell where you are rhythmically as it is harmonically. Which, of course, is exactly what Wagner intended
The singers, it has to be said, are not quite in the same league as their conductor. The outstanding performance here is Yvonne Minton's Kundry. One of the best `Ich sah das Kinds' I know; a very sexy, seductive lead into the kiss; true tragic angst as she recalls laughing at Christ; hair-raising and scary when she starts threatening. Her intonation is also wonderfully exact in all those creepy chromatic phrases, slipping up or down by semitone steps. Moll's performance is streets ahead of what he gave under Levine's lethargic direction, but he still can't quite stop Gurnemanz turning into a bit of a bore with his Act 1 narration in a way that a Weber or a Hotter always avoided. King is a sound Parsifal (as he is for Boulez) while never raising the hairs on the back of your neck as Vickers could at points like `Amfortas! Die Wunde!'. Weikl is good but not great. Mazura sings Klingsor's part most musically (no barking), but only Hermann Uhde seemed able to turn the character into something more than a pantomime villain. Salminen's Titurel is impressive but unremittingly forte. The Flowermaidens can be a bit shrill with the exception of the lovely Lucia Popp.
The sound (from a Bavarian Radio recording of 1980) is not top flight by today's highest standards, but more than good enough to hear all of Kubelik's mastery of this score. And make no mistake. This is masterly conducting, well worth hearing.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
A superb Parsifal.April 5 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Raphael Kubelik conducts a first-rate cast and orchestra in a performance of Parsifal that is at once profoundly satisfying both emotionally and intellectually. The orchestral playing is wonderfully clear and precise and at the same time rich and deep in sound. The singers have clearly lived into their roles, even though this is not a recording of a staged performance. I suspect that the members of this cast have sung these roles together on stage; they come across as a seasoned ensemble, used to working together. Some critics have found James King a bit ragged in the final act, but I cannot hear this; I hear only the voice of an empathic artist portraying a man undergoing radical and painful transformation. Parsifal's healing hurts.
Why is this recording, not released until 2003 (a shame in itself), already out of print or at least not easily available in the United States???? Perhaps Audite, the in-house label of the Bavarian State Radio Orchestra, will pick it up and include it in their ongoing release of masterful performances under Kubelik's baton.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
An essential ParsifalJan. 28 2006
The Cultural Observer
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I'm very picky about Wagner recordings, and if the ensemble as a whole doesn't work for me, I usually can never give it the stars it deserves. Kubelik's Parsifal though, deserves all the stars amazon.com can offer. Albeit the fact that this recording was vaulted due to the popularity of the deservedly famous Karajan Berlin set, I cannot stop praising the several merits of this recording. First and foremost, the soloists in this recording are simply outstanding. At his age, James King sings an excellently vocalized and dramatically right Parsifal. The voice may not have the bloom of youth possessed by Jess Thomas or Peter Hofmann, but it truly is a golden voice. Kurt Moll is the best Gurnemanz of the discography, and this is his best performance of the role. He surpasses his Gurnemanz under Levine and slightly that of Karajan's. He uses his ability as a lieder singer to highlight the emotional moments that make this role so distinct that I couldn't help but feel moved by this benchmark performance. Yvonne Minton sings the most wonderful Kundry in the discography, and I find that I have never heard a better mezzo soprano act out the role better than her or Christa Ludwig. The dementia and seductiveness is all there, and that soft moan at the beginning of act 3 is to die for. Bernd Weikl sings a typical Amfortas, although he does outshine many other singers in the discography save Jose Van Dam in the Karajan recording. The highlight of this recording though, is Rafael Kubelik's transparent and emotionally saturated conducting of Wagner's score. I think that after Karajan's set, this is the Parsifal to own. Highly recommended.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Ten Stars Aren't Enough!July 31 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I had decided not to review my favorite studio recording of Parsifal because so many others had already said most of what I had to say. But after listening to the 2nd Act on my lunch hour today, I find I need to blow off some happy steam and share a few thoughts.
Much for the same reason as Kubelik's "Meistersinger" was supressed to clear the market for Karajan's inferior recording, this Parsifal languished in the vault for more than twenty years. It is a great pity and shame that one conductor can wield that much power, to the detrement of his collegues, and the loss of the opera-loving public.
Rafael Kubelik's flawlessly proportioned, profoundly felt reading of this most ephemeral of Wagner's operas equals the best of Knapperstbusch's live Bayreuth performances with all the advantages of a studio recording: the orchestra and choruses are exceptionally detailed and transparent without any loss of weight in the sound, so all inner voices can be clearly heard. This is especially effective in the Flower Maiden scene, where you get a more visceral sense of the numbers of bodies surrounding Parsifal, rather than a generic choral mass. Kubelik's sense of detail in dynamics and color is a real highlight of this set, and The Bavarian Radio Symphony, particularly their winds and brass, plays magnificently. In this recording, more than any other I've heard, they are the equal of the NY, Vienna and Berlin. He also understands that the voices in Wagner are part of the orchestra, or rather that the orchestra is often 'on top.' You will not have an unnatural prominence of the voice at the biggest climaxes, as is so often the case. The voices may very nearly be subsumed at times, but not entirely lost.
Kubelik also has a clear vision of the overall architecture of each act. His sense of pace is generally faster that what we usually hear these days; Knapperstbusch could be very brisk when the spirit was on him; Fritz Busch, on Marston's issue of the 1936 Buenos Aires broadcast is even more manic at times. But when he opts for a slower than usual tempo, the effect is enthralling. Listen to Parsifals first description of his past to Gurnemanz ("Ich hab' eine Mutter"): the stately tempo reflects the majesty of the forest and the dramatic tension begins to increase. The same occurs in the 2nd act at "Ich sah' das Kind." Kundry's gentle, deliberate pace builds the tension released in Parsifal's grief. He also makes a point of combining changes of dynamics with shifts of timbre. This is remakably effective throughout the score and requires playing of the highest calibre. The emotional result is obvious at first hearing and never wears thin.
Kurt Moll's superb Gurnemanz was recorded within months of his equally fine reading for Karajan. His vocal health is virtually the same, but there are many differences of interpretation and nuance. This is the mark of a great lieder singer, and great Wagner singers are usually great lieder singers, too. Here he makes wider use of pianissimo singing, especially in Act 3 scene 1; he barely whispers some lines, something he could never do in the theater, and the effect is tremendous.
I am unapologetically a huge fan of James King's, and this is some of his best recorded work. He is an anomaly among Wagner tenors; a combination of italiante spinto squillo and a touch of gallic restraint. (He studied extensively with Martial Singher, perhaps the finest baritone France produced in the 20th century, and the eloquent Amfortas on that Buenos Aires broadcast, with his father-in-law holding the baton.) He is hardly unemotional, though he can tend toward a strictness with note values. But if you listen closely (with headphones), even his inhalations are in character, a rare and difficult thing. Only Jon Vickers compares in emotional inolvement, seemingly more so for his greater freedom and less brilliant tone. As is often the case, a phrase by phrase comparison of these two singers shows that they make pretty much the same emotional points, but the sheer opulence of King's sound tends to overwhelm the expressive gesture.
Yvonne Minton again sings an impassioned and seductive Kundry, as she did on Armin Jordan's soundtrack to the Syberberg film. The edge in her upper range is a little more pronounced here than it was a few years earlier, but it helps put over Kundry's frantic desperation at the end of act two. She copes well with the role's notorious pitfalls and understands the character completely.
Amfortas is sung here by Bernd Weikl, in peak voice. He is a very fine Amfortas, vocally luxurious in fact. He holds out the high G in act one for nearly the full measure, although Wagner only wrote an 1/8-note. He doesn't express the same depth of sorrow as Jose van Dam, or the searing torment of Thomas Stewart, but he surely belongs in that upper echelon.
Franz Mazura's Klingsor is one of the best on records, too. He has the natural sound perfect for Wagner's villains, but doesn't rely on it alone. In addition to the native snarl he uses the words, particularly the consonants, to express his hatred and disdain of the Grail Knights.
Titurel is sung magnificently by Matti Salminen, and this is a bit of a problem. Why did the engineers choose to place him up front and equal to Amfortas and the Knights when Wagner demands that the voice issue from the crypt? The effect of this scene is spoiled. But, as Jascha Heifetz said, "Only God is perfect."
All of the small knight and squire parts are filled nicely. Lucia Popp again lends her ravishing soprano to the 1st Flower Maiden, and the rest of that ensemble is as good as you will hear. The Toelzer Knabenchor and Bavarian State Opera Chorus are magnificent in the Grail Temple scenes, which glow with spiritual intensity. The bells of Monsalvat, however, seem rather thin: more like cymbal and gong tacked together.
The original early digital recording has been remastered to the latest 24bit/96kHz technology, and the sound is brilliant and balanced throughout. My only misgiving (beside the perspective on Titurel) is a hint of room echo, but this is rarely noticable except with headphones. It isn't a problem at all in the interior scenes of the temple, where the Herkulessaal of the Munich Residenz has just enough echo to suggest the domed space of the Grail temple. But forest, garden and meadow sound a bit boxed in.
Overall, this is the most satisfying studio performance of Parsifal I have heard. This, and the '64 Bayreuth Kna with Jon Vickersas a live counterpart.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The best "Parsifal" for singers, conductor and soundJuly 18 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I thought that the Karajan was unbeatable until I discovered this recording, long held in the DG vaults for reasons of petty jealousies and politicking. It is superior to every other account by virtue of Kubelik's masterly pacing; he achieves both a spiritual dimension even beyond (what now seems now, by comparison) Karajan's exquisitely played and rather more polished achievement.
Kurt Moll possessed surely the most beautiful post-war Wagnerian bass and he is caught here in his absolute prime; there is more nuance, more resonance and more drama than in his slightly later assumption of the role with Karajan. The orchestra are superb and although other reviewers have found the sound wanting, I do not; it seems to me incomparably clear and spacious. Again, some reviewers have found fault with the singing; I find that Minton's Kundry, one or two strained top notes apart, achieves the perfect balance between vulnerability and animal passion. King achieves the miracle of making believable Parsifal's transition from boyish oaf to a hero, enlightened by compassion; he is very careful in how he enunciates and inflects the text and sings both softly and heroically. Frank Mazura's Klingsor sounds uncannily like Gustav Neidlinger's Alberich in the famous Solti "Ring" - and that is meant to be a high compliment. The Flower maidens, headed by Lucia Popp, are a seductive bunch; perhaps the only slight disappointment comes from Weikl's rather exterior Amfortas, but his was a fine voice at that time - not too much of the bleat which now intrudes - and he makes a fine job of the three climactic utterances of "Erbarmen" in his big aria.
I stll miss the sheer beauty of Van Dam in Karajan's set, or perhaps the heft of London - a different approach from Van Dam's inward, lyrical interpretation, but mightily impressive, nonetheless - but as a whole this recording is by far the most moving, authoritative and absorbing of this towering masterpiece.