"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."
An essential Parsifal
The Cultural Observer | 01/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
MASTERLY WAGNER CONDUCTING
Klingsor Tristan | Suffolk | 10/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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. "
A vocal feast, wonderfully conducted
12_tone_lizzie | UK | 02/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Probably the finest Parsifal on CD, and certainly the best sung. The late, great James King pours out streams of magnificent, impassioned tone. (It's beyond me why so many reviewers think we need to turn to the relatively pinched, monotonous and unidiomatic Domingo for beautiful Wagner singing. Nein danke.) Kurt Moll is everything he's cracked up to be, and Kubelik conducts as authoritatively as in his Meistersinger (also probably the best available recording, rivalled only by Kempe). The clincher is Bernd Weikl, a ringing, virile baritone, a fine actor, and easily the greatest Amfortas I've heard. Compare the critics' favorites in the role, Fischer-Dieskau and Van Dam, and you'll find their top notes painful in way that can't really blamed on the character's wound. (Let's hope it's not long before a DVD release of the Bayreuth video with Weikl and the young Siegfried Jerusalem, Horst Stein conducting.) A quibble: the voices, thrilling as they are, are recorded too forwardly for this most atmospheric of operas. PS This is not, as one spotlight review here suggests, the soundtrack of Hans Jurgen Syberberg's other-wordly film version (ASIN 6305131112), which was conducted by Armin Jordan with Reiner Goldberg singing the title role."
The best "Parsifal" for singers, conductor and sound
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 07/18/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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 somewhat beyond (what now seems like) the merely polished achievement of Karajan. 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."