Author Topic: Wagner's Parsifal  (Read 42706 times)

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Offline rubio

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Wagner's Parsifal
« on: August 31, 2008, 05:43:48 AM »
I have just listened to Karajan's 1984 performance of Parsifal (borrowed from the library). I don't know if I'm just getting more accustomed to Wagner's "idiom", but Parsifal is probably my favourite work of the man so far (well, maybe together with Meistersinger). I find this work very sensous and melodical - more so than e.g. the Ring. Kurt Moll is fabulous as Gurnemanz!



I think there are some versions which are even more praised - Knappertsbusch and Kubelik. How do they compare to eachother (and to the Karajan) interpretation-wise? I love the more lyrical side of Wagner. Which one would you recommend me to get? I see Kubelik also has Kurt Moll as Gurnemanz. Tempting.

 
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Offline knight66

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2008, 06:06:40 AM »
This is not my expert corner of opera. However, from my experience, most sets seem to have very good casts. The issue to concentrate upon is the conductor.

I have the Karajan set which I enjoy a great deal. You already know what to expect with him. A massive sound and majestic approach. I also have exerpts from Levine, though I just don't think this is an opera that yields itself to extracts. Time up, and after seven minutes, all that has happened is that someone moved across the stage. So, as I feel I cannot really judge from experts, I won't comment on Levine beyond saying that the tread seems heavily slow, the soundworld lush and I am not too keen on Domingo or in this case Jessye Norman who sounds too grand and well nourished.

I used to own the Boulez on LP, this seemed to me a cold, detached interpretation, it no doubt gave a succinct account of the score, but it did not involve me in the journey.

That leaves Thielemann: he has the architecture and the soundworld seems right to me. There is stage noise and I don't really get along all that well with Domingo. But it has a lot to recommend it.

I have seen praise for Baremboim, Kubelik and the various Knappersbush recordings, but don't know them. I am sure someone will happen by who will give you a better steer.

Mike
« Last Edit: August 31, 2008, 09:13:42 AM by knight »
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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2008, 06:11:23 AM »
I have just listened to Karajan's 1984 performance of Parsifal (borrowed from the library). I don't know if I'm just getting more accustomed to Wagner's "idiom", but Parsifal is probably my favourite work of the man so far (well, maybe together with Meistersinger). I find this work very sensous and melodical - more so than e.g. the Ring. Kurt Moll is fabulous as Gurnemanz!



Rubio,

This set was also my first Parsifal experience also.  I enjoyed it immensely.   :)

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2008, 06:20:49 AM »
Rubio,

This set was also my first Parsifal experience also.  I enjoyed it immensely.   :)

Same here, beginning of the 80s. The Transformation Music (especially the one in the Third Act) is colossal. I remember a friend of mine exclaiming Karajan is using plutonium!
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Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2008, 08:52:21 AM »
Barenboim's is a beauty. Committed, accomplished, and radiant. The casting is excellent, pacing excellent, and the recorded sound has deeeeep impact.

Knappertsbusch is uniformly excellent, too. Either the 1962 Bayreuth (pictured above) or the 1951. The 1964 (on Orfeo) is great, too.


 
Veit Bach-a baker who found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill and played while the grinding was going on. In this way he had a chance to have the rhythm drilled into him. And this was the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants. JS Bach

Offline Anne

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2008, 08:08:11 PM »
I haven't heard the Kubelik Parsifal but his Die Meistersinger is terrific.  If you happen to find it somewhere, buy it.

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2008, 03:40:29 PM »
I haven't heard the Kubelik Parsifal but his Die Meistersinger is terrific.  If you happen to find it somewhere, buy it.


The Kubelik is considered by many to be the cream of the studio recordings (pant pant). Now I'm salivating over the prospect of his Meistersinger, which I haven't heard yet.

The Knap recordings take it for me. The Karajan is often extraordinarily good though. However, some of the choices in dynamics Karajan made during that recording move me the wrong way. It's probably just me.

Offline PerfectWagnerite

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2008, 04:45:46 PM »
The Knappertsbusch is a must have if you are any kind of Wagner fan. Hotter's Gurnemanz is deepfelt and have never been surpassed. I'd say you also need to hear W. Meier's Kundry. Whether you like her or not she has really owned the role. So I guess you might want the Barenboim set also.

Offline marvinbrown

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2008, 05:45:39 AM »
The Knappertsbusch is a must have if you are any kind of Wagner fan.

  If you are referring to the 1962 Knappertsbusch recording at Bayreuth I couldn't agree more with you.  That is certainly a must have recording for any collection.  Also I would like to point out that Wagner composed Parsifal with the sound/acoustics of his opera house in mind.  Wagner was also very adamant about preventing Parsifal from being performed in any venue besides his opera house.  I much prefer the Knappersbusch 1962 to the polished Karajan recording which I also own. 

  marvin

Online Sergeant Rock

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2008, 06:18:35 AM »

I think there are some versions which are even more praised - Knappertsbusch and Kubelik. How do they compare to eachother (and to the Karajan) interpretation-wise? I love the more lyrical side of Wagner. Which one would you recommend me to get? I see Kubelik also has Kurt Moll as Gurnemanz. Tempting.

I can't give you a personal recommendation for the Kubelik but I can recount the day an online friend (a complete Parsifal nutcase  ;D ) heard it. He couldn't stop talking about it. To hear him rave, he'd found the Holy Grail of Parsifals  ;)

As others have noted, at least one Knappertsbusch Parsifal is a must for any serious Wagner collection. I prefer the '64 to the '62 on the strength of Vickers in the title role and Thomas Stewart's insane Amfortas....a quite unforgettable performance. (Hotter is still the Gurnemanz). This one has sentimental value too: the last Parsifal Knapp conducted. (For the record: besides the '64 Knapp, I own Boulez, Karajan, Barenboim, Levine and Solti....I listen to the Boulez when I'm in a hurry  ;D )

Sarge
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Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2008, 06:30:28 AM »
I hope this isn't immodest of me but I'd like to cut and paste a post of mine to Andy from the WAYLT thread.

He and I were discussing Knappertsbusch's 1962 Parsifal recording:



I agree 100%, Andy. Kna has a strong feel for the rhythm and pulse of this work. No sagging or listlessness. Dynamics swing wide (soft and grand) yet never sound plastered on as mere decoration. He really seems to have a natural inclination as to how this work should go.

Yeah, the sound isn't digital but fortunately there's plenty of weight and clarity so that everything Kna does is perfectly related to the listener. Glad they caught him in the stereo era!

Unfortunately I haven't heard Karajan's Parsifal. But for comparisons I have Barenboim's recording and yet another of Kna's recordings: the 1951 Bayreuth (on Teldec).

To me Barenboim suffers in the same way Karajan apparently does - there just isn't the sense of an "iron will" imposed on the music as with Kna, which helps keep everything tied together for the (very) long haul. It's probably not fair to compare in this manner as Barenboim certainly is accomplished when appraised on his own, minus any Kna comparisons. But, well, Kna seems to intuitively know his way around this vast score and really pulls out all the stops.

Of course Kna had the benefit of knowing this work inside and out as he performed it at Bayreuth for thirteen consecutive seasons starting in 1951 (when Bayreuth was reopened) until 1964. So kinda puts him a leg up on anyone else. 

As far as Kna's 1951 Bayreuth recording, the cast is a great one but I still prefer the 1962 Philips Bayreuth recording for its superior sonics. The comparatively dim 1951 mono sound is a major handicap in that the orchestra isn't as present nor as weighty and hasn't the impact the later recording does. Which to me means I'm missing much of the music.

So, yes, Kna's Philips recording is something very special and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as a first choice.






Veit Bach-a baker who found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill and played while the grinding was going on. In this way he had a chance to have the rhythm drilled into him. And this was the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants. JS Bach

Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2008, 09:06:05 PM »
...(For the record: besides the '64 Knapp, I own Boulez, Karajan, Barenboim, Levine and Solti....I listen to the Boulez when I'm in a hurry  ;D )

Sarge,

Speaking of Boulez, do you have any feelings one way or another about his merits as a Wagnerian? The classical press seems to be all over the place in their appraisal of him in Wagner. He has his fans but equally so he has his detractors.

I know he got some bad press for his "speedy" Parsifal at Bayreuth but the criticism doesn't seem justified when fact-checking the history of Parsifals at Bayreuth. I don't have the exact numbers handy (will have tomorrow) but Boulez actually comes in very close to Hermann Levi's premiere performance, and Levi was the man Wagner handpicked for the job.

One of Fanfare's critics (retired now) is a staunch supporter of Boulez's Wagner, finding his Ring exceptional (though thoroughly panning Gwyneth Jones's Brünnhilde) and having good things to say about his Parsifal. Though again there doesn't seem to be anything like a consensus at that mag - at least one other critic is happy to deride Boulez.

But I suppose it's worth taking a closer look at Boulez, and as you're the first person I can recall on this board who's mentioned Boulez in the same sentence as Wagner, well, is there anything you can add to the Boulez controversy, pro or con?

I, myself, have yet to own a Boulez/Wagner recording but I did manage a first-hand audition of his Ring not long ago and came away...undecided.



Veit Bach-a baker who found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill and played while the grinding was going on. In this way he had a chance to have the rhythm drilled into him. And this was the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants. JS Bach

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #12 on: September 04, 2008, 02:44:33 AM »
Sarge,

Speaking of Boulez, do you have any feelings one way or another about his merits as a Wagnerian? The classical press seems to be all over the place in their appraisal of him in Wagner. He has his fans but equally so he has his detractors.

I know he got some bad press for his "speedy" Parsifal at Bayreuth but the criticism doesn't seem justified when fact-checking the history of Parsifals at Bayreuth. I don't have the exact numbers handy (will have tomorrow) but Boulez actually comes in very close to Hermann Levi's premiere performance, and Levi was the man Wagner handpicked for the job.

One of Fanfare's critics (retired now) is a staunch supporter of Boulez's Wagner, finding his Ring exceptional (though thoroughly panning Gwyneth Jones's Brünnhilde) and having good things to say about his Parsifal. Though again there doesn't seem to be anything like a consensus at that mag - at least one other critic is happy to deride Boulez.

But I suppose it's worth taking a closer look at Boulez, and as you're the first person I can recall on this board who's mentioned Boulez in the same sentence as Wagner, well, is there anything you can add to the Boulez controversy, pro or con?

I, myself, have yet to own a Boulez/Wagner recording but I did manage a first-hand audition of his Ring not long ago and came away...undecided.







That's fascinating about Levi and Boulez's renditions. Am very interested in what Sarge has to say.

Online Sergeant Rock

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #13 on: September 04, 2008, 07:14:33 AM »
Sarge

Speaking of Boulez, do you have any feelings one way or another about his merits as a Wagnerian?

Let me say first that I don't find fast speeds in Wagner objectionable (I love Böhm's Ring). Speed can be a positive thing in this music. Shaving a half hour off Parsifal does it no harm. I don't even mind Boulez's very fast Act 1 prelude (10:27). Compared to Karajan (14:14) or Levine (16:23) it might seem ridiculously speedy but in context it works and, in fact, is not that much faster than Knappertsbusch '64 (12:13). Kna has a reputation for slowness but at least in the performance I own he's faster than everyone except Boulez. Act 3 for example:

Boulez                   65:14
Knappertsbusch      72:32
Barenboim             77:21
Karajan                 78:19
Levine                   84:27

There's never a point in the Boulez performance where the music feels "too fast" to me, and I appreciate the dramatic urgency. His is more an operatic Parsifal than a religious meditation.

Where I do have a problem with Boulez is in his refusal to mold the music and his tendency to play down the "big" moments. The Transformation scene, for example, doesn't move me at all. The feeling I get is, "Let's just get this over with"...not because it's too fast but because he refuses to shape the music with subtle changes of speed and rhythmic pointing. Kna is superb here and never fails to give me goosebumps. (Karajan gives me the same emotional rush but he does it with nukes...as Johan pointed out  ;D ) Boulez plays this scene as if it were Meistersinger: a gathering of apprentices instead of holy knights.

But despite those negative criticisms I like his Parsifal, especially the urgency and drama of the second and third acts. The cast is pretty good. Stewart is a superb Amfortas; King is a decent Parsifal, youthful sounding if rather dark (baritonal). If Nigel were here, I think he would agree with me that Gwyneth Jones is really not bad; rarely shrill and the wobble under control. I like her Kundry; it's quite sensuous. Franz Crass's Gurnemanz is the weak link (he's no Hotter or Moll) but he doesn't compromise the show; and I do like the actual sound of his voice.

Boulez's Ring I only heard once, many years ago when it was broadcast on PBS. I don't retain enough memory of it to comment, or to give a definitive opinion about his merits as a Wagnerian. Sorry.

Quote
...as you're the first person I can recall on this board who's mentioned Boulez in the same sentence as Wagner

In the second message in this thread, Mike also mentions Boulez. Apparently he likes the recording much less than I do.

Sarge
« Last Edit: September 04, 2008, 07:26:30 AM by Sergeant Rock »
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Offline Todd

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #14 on: September 04, 2008, 07:55:39 AM »
Parisfal is absolutely wonderful, certainly Wagner's most beautiful score, and one that is hard to make sound dull or bland.  Levine succeeds in this, though; he is way too slow. 

Good to see Boulez mentioned: I am apparently one of the few who enjoy him in Wagner, and never more than in his 1970 recording of this work.  (Haven't heard the '66 or the one from a year or two ago, already apparently out in bootlegs.)  Yes, he's fast, but as pointed out earlier, that lends a dramatic urgency to the work and makes it sound more traditionally operatic.  (I like his Ring for the same reason, and one day I must try his Tristan.)  And I love McIntyre as Klingsor!

Another speedy conductor is Clemens Krauss, who pretty much zips right along yet delivers in every other regard.  Good cast too.  Not so hot sound.  A fine performance.

That written, I'd have to say that Barenboim's glorious, gorgeous account is probably my favorite account of the work.  His cast is good, Meier’s Kundry especially, and he manages to combine urgency with a perfectly flowing overall approach.

Karajan’s studio recording is also superb, and to my ears one of the better things he’s done.  Thielemann’s set is a mixed bag.  Domingo is not ideal for the lead at all, but the orchestral playing is superb, especially given that it’s live.  Nagano’s set offers playing that is at least as good, though not as sumptuous, and his cast isn’t the greatest.  Even Meier isn’t what she once was.  The Kubelik set is quite good, but after all of the praise heaped upon it before I heard it, I was let down a bit. 
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Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #15 on: September 04, 2008, 09:01:29 PM »
But despite those negative criticisms I like his Parsifal, especially the urgency and drama of the second and third acts. The cast is pretty good. Stewart is a superb Amfortas; King is a decent Parsifal, youthful sounding if rather dark (baritonal). If Nigel were here, I think he would agree with me that Gwyneth Jones is really not bad; rarely shrill and the wobble under control. I like her Kundry; it's quite sensuous. Franz Crass's Gurnemanz is the weak link (he's no Hotter or Moll) but he doesn't compromise the show; and I do like the actual sound of his voice.

Thanks for your thoughts, Sarge. Lucid as usual. I'll keep all this in mind when approaching Boulez's Wagner.

As for the comparisons with Böhm, I have an on again, off again relationship with the two Ring installments I have of his (Twilight and Walküre). It's not so much his speed that bothers me but the somewhat diminished role the orchestra plays compared to some, e.g. Levine, Dohnanyi, and others. I'm not ready to chalk this up solely to the Bayreuth acoustics as Knappertsbusch's '62 Parsifal finds the orchestra much more aggressively in the forefront, and this is a much more 'subdued' opera.

What I've read of Boulez's Wagner vis-à-vis Böhm is their styles may be outwardly similar in terms of pacing (quicker than usual) but Boulez places greater emphasis on orchestral detail. Not that the two could be mistaken for twin interpreters minus this one difference but it is tempting to wonder how successful a speedier performance might be with greater orchestral definition and weight.

Unfortunately I'll have to wait 'till my pocketbook will allow such a luxury but until then it gives me something to look forward to.

In the second message in this thread, Mike also mentions Boulez. Apparently he likes the recording much less than I do.

Sarge

Hard to believe but I did read Knight's post. Heck, I even did a (obviously not thorough enough) search. I guess this board just moves too fast for the likes of me. $:)



« Last Edit: September 30, 2008, 08:37:32 PM by donwyn »
Veit Bach-a baker who found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill and played while the grinding was going on. In this way he had a chance to have the rhythm drilled into him. And this was the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants. JS Bach

Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #16 on: September 04, 2008, 09:25:23 PM »
Another speedy conductor is Clemens Krauss, who pretty much zips right along yet delivers in every other regard.  Good cast too.  Not so hot sound.  A fine performance.

Yes, a speedy Parsifal really isn't such an anomaly at Bayreuth. In fact, Krauss's 1953 performance is actually quicker than Boulez in 1966 (3:44 for Kruass and 3:49 for Boulez).

Jochum in 1972 clocks in under the four hour mark (3:46), and Levi, who premiered the work, clocks in at 4:04.

Toscanini, interestingly enough, clocks in at 4:48(!) in his Bayreuth performance (forget date). Which is the slowest on record there.

So with such diversity in timings it's curious Boulez should be singled out as too "radical".


« Last Edit: September 05, 2008, 03:29:54 PM by donwyn »
Veit Bach-a baker who found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill and played while the grinding was going on. In this way he had a chance to have the rhythm drilled into him. And this was the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants. JS Bach

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #17 on: September 05, 2008, 03:51:16 AM »
As fascinating as the above recordings sound, I keep getting strong reccomendations in regard the Kubelik/Parsifal set. And I need a studio version anyhoo.

Does anybody else like the Stein/Jerusalem Parsifal dvd (I love it, especially Sotin's Gurnemanz!)?? :(

Offline PSmith08

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #18 on: September 05, 2008, 02:09:42 PM »
I find Herbert Kegel's 1975 Parsifal to be, really, the ideal "fast" Parsifal, if one is going to play it fast. Historical precedent notwithstanding, I find a more moderate approach (i.e., about four hours to four and a quarter) to be more thematically suited to the drama. Parsifal by virtue of its dramatic content lends itself, in my mind, to a contemplative interpretation. Knappertsbusch and Kubelík had this in spades, Thielemann comes very close to that mark with the orchestra - only to be let down a little by his cast, and the rest can fall in line somewhere on the spectrum. Of course, it would be profoundly unidiomatic to do a Ron Popeil, pick a tempo, and leave the thing on autopilot. That is, of course, another discussion for another day. Kegel's Parsifal isn't quite as fast as Boulez', going strictly by the timings: there's a two-minute difference. That's trivial. So, I'll just say ceteris paribus, though Boulez has a better cast, the Bayreuth band, and the Festspielhaus acoustic going for his set, and say that Kegel has a more immediately interesting set. I don't think he handles clarity, texture, and rhythm as well as Boulez, but there is a visceral excitement to his set that isn't as apparent with Boulez.

That having been said, I prefer Boulez' set for the reasons I ignored with my equation above.

Offline Guido

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Re: Wagner's Parsifal
« Reply #19 on: September 06, 2008, 11:00:06 AM »
What are people's thoughts on the 1951 Knappertsbusch recording of Parsifal? I have heard great things about this one.
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