Live recording in mono from
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
August 22, 1951
Conductor: Hans Knappertsbusch
Amfortas George London
Titurel Arnold van Mill
Gurnemanz Ludwig Weber
Parsifal Wolfgang Windgassen
Klingsor Hermann Uhde
Kundry Martha Mödl
Altsolo Ruth Siewert
Gralsritter Walther Fritz
Gralsritter Werner Faulhaber
Knappe Hanna Ludwig
Knappe Elfriede Wild
Knappe Günther Baldauf
Knappe Gerhard Stolze
Blume Hildegard Schünemann
Blume Erika Zimmermann
Blume Hanna Ludwig
Blume Paula Brivkalne
Blume Maria Lacorn
Blume Elfriede Wild
Chor und Orchester der
Bayreuther Festspiele
Teldec, 9031-76047-2 4 CDs ADD
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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 price-reduction.

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 their number.

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".