Review by Basil Clement|
This was the first recording of "Parsifal" that I bought. The reasons were
that I was very keen to obtain a recording of the opera, and that it was
available for a very low price. At the time, I had very little money to
spare, so the low price was a determining factor in the choice of
recording. Having heard it, I can understand the reason behind the
Parsifal is convincingly sung by Wolfgang Windgassen. He gives a good,
steady performance. However, he has sung better in other recordings
(particularly as Siegfried).
Martha Mödl gives everything she can to her portrayal of Kundry.
However, she is a little unsteady, and her pitch isn't always there. This
performance is not up to the same standards as her 1949 and 1953 recordings
(conducted by Richard Kraus and Clemens Krauss respectively).
The role of Amfortas is authoritatively sung by George London. This
authority makes it easy to understand why he was chosen to sing the part of
Wotan in Solti's recording of "Das Rheingold".
Ludwig Weber gives us a dramatic Gurnimanz. There will, I'm sure, be those
who would find his interpretation a little too dramatic, but I am not among
The biggest problem with this recording is the orchestra and chorus. I
don't know whether it is the recording, the re-mastering for CD, or the
string section of the orchestra (I suspect a combination of all three),
but the strings in general, and the violins in particular, sound very thin.
They sound as though they are playing Bach on period instruments for Sir
John Eliot Gardiner rather than Wagner on modern instruments for Hans
Knappertsbusch. The flutes have a significant tuning problem. They are
distinctly sharp throughout. I am currently training to become a piano
tuner, and I find it rather difficult to enjoy such a painfully out-of-tune
performance when I want to unwind after a day of dealing with out-of-tune
pianos! However, the clarinets and the brass section give the orchestra a
certain amount of redemtion.
The chorus are, quite frankly, undisciplined. Often they are not together,
which spoils some of the most beautiful moments in all of Wagner's music.
Another disadvantage to this recording, is the amount of background noise.
This is, of course, an inherent weakness in any recording of any live
performance. However, it seems worse in this recording than others e.g.
Knappertsbusch's 1962 recording of the same work, or Nelsson's 1985
recording of "Der Fliegende Holander" (both of which, incidentally, are on
Philips). Some of the extraneous noise comes from the performers moving
around on stage, but most of it comes from the audience shuffling, coughing,
sneezing, etc. This can be distracting, and sometimes irritating.
An aspect of the recording which for me, is a definite plus, is
Knappertsbusch's enjoyment of the opera, which comes through in his
conducting. He is obviously loving every minute of the music. He wallows
luxuriously in its beauty. He is not afraid to linger and enjoy. The tempi
he uses emphasise the meditative and inward-looking side of Wagner's music
rather than the dramatic. Indeed, the performance lasts approximately
eighteen minutes longer than his famous, and justifiably popular 1962
recording. I do not believe that the tempi used in this recording either
enhance or detract from the opera. I would suggest that it is more a case
of putting a different perspective on it. It is tragic that a conductor who
is relishing the music so much should be let down so badly by his orchestra.
I do not feel, however, that this recording can be ignored. It is the
earliest available recording of "Parsifal" from Bayreuth, so it is of
historical importance. However, it is perhaps more suitable for obsessive
collectors than those wanting to buy a first "Parsifal".