Not so long ago, I reviewed Kubelik's Parsifal and gave it five stars. I still think Kubelik's is one of the best Parsifals in the discography but personally, I prefer the Goodall by a whisker.
What drew me to the Goodall originally were reports of its slow tempi. Rather than putting me off, this actually encouraged me to buy it, as I have been finding myself increasingly drawn back of late to the 1951 Knappertsbusch recording, with its very slow
tempi. Goodall's tempi are even slower - a minute slower in the first Act, some fifteen minutes slower in the second and six minutes slower in the third, which makes it the slowest Parsifal in the discography and indeed in history. But it never drags.
Goodall is able to achieve a kind of horizontal clarity from the orchestra which I have never heard in any other performance and every nuance and detail of the orchestration is revealed and dwelt upon lovingly without in any way compromising ghe conductor's overarching grasp of the structure of the work.
But this is not just a 1951 Knappertsbusch in superior sound.
Knappertsbusch was renowned for bringing his own pious, 'Christian' feel to the work. Goodall brings what I can only describe as an Arthurian feel, emphasing the mystical qualities of the drama so that, for instance the religious music of Act one sounds like a solemn rite actually enacted in the Arthurian era of legend, rather than (as in Knappertsbusch)a beautiful religious ceremony pertaining to a more modern era. It is this Arthurian feel - I can't put it any other way - which sets this Parsifal apart from all the rest and which in my opinion elevates it above them.
The cast is superb - not a weak member (unlike the Kubelik, which unfortunately has a rather weak Amfortas and an uncharacteristic Kundry). In this recording, the greatest Kundry since Moedl, Waltraud Meier, gives a performance that is suitably unhinged in Act1 and astonishingly seductive in Act 2. As Gurnemanz, Donald Mcintyre is in my view marginally better than Kurt Moll and only Ludwig Weber in the 1951 Knappertsbusch is slightly superior. In other words, McIntyre's is one of the best Gurnemanzes in the discography. He gives astute attention to every nuance of the text and his tone is very even, lacking the throatiness of Hans Hotter in the 1962 Kna. Warren Ellsworth as Parsifal is a real surpise. I'd never heard of him before, but I am astonished at the beauty of his voice, which has a dark, baritonal quality in the lower register and very piercing (but not shrill) in the upper. He brings a greater degree of characterisation to the role than any other singer since Windgassen in 1951. In Act 3, he is able to sound suitably matured, but still at heart innocent - an extraordinary feat, which eludes all other singers in this role. Phillip Joll is an excellent Amfortas, perhaps with a slightly too obtrusive vibrato, but well inside his part and as suitably anguished as was George London in 1951. As Klingsor, David Gwynne lacks the real evil brought to the role by Hermann Uhde in 1951, but Uhde in this part remains unsurpassed and Gwynne is an exceptionally fine Klingsor nevertheless, very malevolent, though his voice sounds perhaps too like Donald Mcintyre's at times, lending the result a slightly undifferentiated quality, but this is only a quibble.
This is the most characterful Parsifal I have ever heard for its atmnosphere of mystery and the enchantment of legend. Again, I can only use the word 'Arthurian' to describe it. It has rapidly become my favourite Parsifal - and I already own five others (Solti, Karajan, Kna 51, Kna62 and Kubelik). Finally, a word about the recorded sound. This is of the highest quality. Every instrument can be heard but without the coldness which is sometimes the price for such clarity. Indeed, the recorded sound is almost as warm as that of the Bayreuth of Kna's 1962 recording. It is a tribute to both Goodall and the sound engineers that such clarity of texture can be achieved without compromising the 'blended' feel of the orchestration which Wagner intended.