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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

CD Review: The Lost Parsifal

The salvation of a great recording consigned to the vaults. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Rafael Kubelik
Rafael Kubelik was a great conductor who received shabby treatment from the Deutsche Grammophon label. In 1967, his studio recording of Die Meistersinger was shelved to make room for another set starring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. History repeated itself in 1980, when this  crystalline Parsifal was banished to the vaults in favor of Herbert von Karajan's set with the Berlin Philharmonic. Released in 2003 by the small Arts Archives label, this set is now out of print, and remains a lost Grail for Wagner aficionados.




Karajan may have been the more famous conductor, but one listen to this intelligent, well-balanced recording shows that Kubelik had the better cast. James King, in his second Parsifal recording, shows the intelligence and vocal command that only comes with long experience of the role.

Baritone Bernd Weikl is a pathetic figure as Amfortas (that's a good thing in this opera) injecting a note of real suffering into his voice. Kurt Moll, who recorded Gurnemanz twice more, sings the part with his familiar mannerisms and much fresher voice than his later readings for Karajan and Levine.Finnish bass Matti Salminen (in one of his earliest recordings) is a thunderous Titurel.

The greatest performance here is Yvonne Minton as Kundry, the one woman in the strange world of this opera, trapped between the Grail Knights and the evil machinations of the magician Klingsor. She goes from penitent to seductress with little effort, turning her voice nimbly to seduce Parsifal in the second act. Starting with warm seduction, she becomes the haunted penitent (the "Ich sah ihn" is harrowing), climaxing in a towering rage with the spat curse.

Finally, this is the best of Franz Mazura's many recorded Klingsors, singing with less "bark" than in later recordings. Both choruses: the male Grail Knights and the female Flower Maidens sing impeccably and are placed within a warm, burnished acoustic that is characteristic of the best work of the DG engineers.

Parsifal is a tricky beast to conduct. Under Kubelik, the solution is to lead a measured, steady first act and then race through the second, conducting it with propulsive power that few conductors (maybe Boulez) dare to approach. That drive continues into the Second Transformation Scene and the funeral march that brings Act III to its climax. This is an essential set for Parsifal lovers, and recommended for anyone who wants to understand what Wagner's final opera is all about.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.