Parsifal    (Kubelik;  James King, Weikl, Moll, Salminen, Mazura, Minton)     (4-Arts Archives 43027)
Item# OP3144
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Parsifal    (Kubelik;  James King, Weikl, Moll, Salminen, Mazura, Minton)     (4-Arts Archives 43027)
OP3144. PARSIFAL, recorded 1980, München, w.Kubelík Cond. Bayerischen Rundfunks Ensemble; James King, Bernd Weikl, Kurt Moll, Matti Salminen, Franz Mazura, Yvonne Minton, etc. (Austria) 4-Arts Archives Stereo 43027. [Superlative sound!] - 600554302720


“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.”

Paul J. Pelkonen

“A titanic work in every sense of the word, Wagner's PARSIFAL is the culmination of the composer's symphonic conceptions of opera and here it does receive a reading deserving of that grandeur.

Arts have already released a splendid MEISTERSINGER under the same helm, and this 1980 recording is probably even grander. Kubelík is a much underrated Wagnerian and here he brings a total commitment to proceedings that infects all concerned. Weikl is a convincing Amfortas whilst Kurt Moll is an outstanding Gurnemanz. The true heroes of this set, however, must be the forceful James King as Parsifal and the outstanding Yvonne Minton as Kundry. These important parts are sung with great verve and passion bringing a hallowed quality to proceedings that is sometimes missing from the Solti set. Speeds are more or less as one would expect and the work flows finely along especially in the massive First Act that so often tends to drag. The Third Act is also remarkable for the commitment of the singers married to some excellent playing by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Solti's classic Decca recording and Karajan's similarly acclaimed set with the Berliners may have dominated the scene in this opera for the past 30 years. One must also not forget what is probably the greatest version of them all, Hans Knappertsbusch's live 1962 Bayreuth version that has stood the test of time for almost half a century. However, I would add this splendid reading to that sturdy trio and thus make a quartet of essential PARSIFAL recordings.”

- Gerald Fenech,

"This splendid set, recorded commercially in 1980 but held up due to contractual problems, here makes (to the best of my knowledge) its first appearance on CD. This performance’s translucence is one of its great virtues, and there are very few drawbacks. Tempos are ideal, buildups natural, peaks never overstated. Paying the most scrupulous attention to dynamics I’ve ever heard, Rafael Kubelik keeps the mood mysterious and pious. Parsifal himself, as sung by James King in Act 1 and the start of Act 2, is boyish and tentative. At first it’s easy to think he’s merely undersinging and saving himself - or that he’s simply under-powered; but in fact, it’s a brilliantly thought-through and executed performance. The Kundry/Parsifal encounter in Act 2 is so suggestive, so whispered, so intimate, that when Parsifal finally explodes with awareness (‘Amfortas! Die Wunde!’) it is truly his awakening. From there until the act’s end he grows in stature (and voice), and with spear in hand, he’s truly magnificent and fearsome in his new-found strength. His potent calmness in Act 3 is palpable, and by the close he is truly worthy of the Grail. It’s a nuanced, brilliant performance.

Kurt Moll, with his big cavernous sound, keeps it in check for all but the most extroverted, extravagant moments (recognizing Parsifal in Act 3, etc.), and…he certainly sings the role more beautifully than anyone else in memory. He also exudes true authority and a type of cosmic calm when he must - his voice is in perfect condition and his pianissimos are beautiful.

Franz Mazura’s Klingsor is a nasty, snarling piece of work, wonderfully corrupt. The rest are very good, with Lucia Popp’s First Flower Maiden particularly seductive. The chorus is just about perfect, as is the orchestra; they sing and play with luster and at times a type of dreaminess I’ve never encountered before.

There’s a stillness, a sense of timelessness to this reading that is unmatched by any other I’ve heard (even Karajan’s), and it’s not only appropriate, it’s hypnotic. Solti’s may be more awe-inspiring and Knappertsbusch’s more fanatically Wagnerian, but this is something otherworldly. This is a performance that chills and warms just where it should. Highly recommended.”

- Robert Levine,

“Another extraordinary set that inexplicably gathered dust in the archives is the conductor Rafael Kubelik’s PARSIFAL, recorded in 1980 but not issued until 2003. 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 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.”

- Steve Smith, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 22 Aug., 2013

“Kurt Moll, the imposing German bass whose theatrical flair and cavernous low notes allowed him to plumb the serenity, humor and ferocity of a wide array of operatic characters created by Mozart, Strauss and Wagner, was his generation’s pre-eminent Baron Ochs in Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER, mixing humor with a distinct tinge of menace in his portrayal of the character, a boorish lecher who gets his comeuppance. It was not a role that came easily to him. ‘Well, it took me forever to do it properly’, Mr. Moll said in a wide-ranging interview with THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1979. ‘It’s probably the hardest role in the bass repertory, and what’s hard is capturing the infinite number of nuances of both the language and the music. No doubt about it, Ochs is a real killer!’

But Mr. Moll was equally persuasive in other, quite different parts. He made a spiritual, magisterial Sarastro in Mozart’s DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE. Reviewing a 1991 performance, Donal Henahan wrote in THE TIMES that he ‘not only projected Sarastro’s mystic nobility and humanity, but also, more solidly and audibly than any basso profundo in years, the role’s subterranean F’s and F sharps of his two arias’.

Mr. Moll was a comic, scene-stealing Osmin in Mozart’s DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL and a stentorian Commendatore in Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI. And he sang a wide range of Wagner’s fathers, cuckolds, giants and monarchs. He became especially known for his Gurnemanz, the old knight in PARSIFAL.

Mr. Moll once offered an insight into his approach to singing opera while discussing how, in Wagner’s TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, he tackled the part of the melancholy King Marke, who loses his bride to his would-be heir. ‘His monologue contains some of the most ravishing music ever written, but it’s also very long and very inward’, he said . ‘If the bass isn’t careful, he will find that his audience has fallen fast asleep by the end of it. You can stand there in your beard, and that beard will seem to get longer and longer as you sing’.”

- Michael Cooper, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 March, 2017