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This is the recording that Alan Bates as the hero of Simon Gray's play 'Otherwise Engaged' kept trying to listen to, but kept getting interrupted before he could get beyond a few bars.
What he would have heard if he'd got to the end would have been perhaps the best sung of all Parsifals. The cast is a starry one (certainly for its time) and they all acquit themselves with more than usual credit.
Top of the list belongs to Gottlob Frick singing this Gurnemanz as his swansong to the recording studio. If you think of him only as the pitch black villains of Walkure and Gotterdammerung or the authoritarian rulers of Lohengrin and Tannhauser, think again. This is a warmly wise mature Knight of the Grail whose every word and musical phrase is deeply considered and sung with meaning and understanding. No garrulous old bore, this. Fischer-Dieskau, too, brings all his experience of lieder singing to bear on the text and the music. This Amfortas is no mere cypher, but an honourable, flawed and deeply anguished man. Christa Ludwig presents all the sharply contrasted facets of this profoundly complex character to her portrayal of Kundry. Maybe she lacks just the last volt of electricity generated by Martha Modl in Act 2. The one slightly weak link in this estimable array is Rene Kollo, a rather bland Parsifal with insufficient distinction between the 'reine Tor' who erupts on the scene in Act 1 and the wiser, older, world-weary black knight who trudges into the final Act. A glance down the cast list reveals strength in depth right down to a list of Flowermaidens that includes Kiri te Kanawa and Lucia Popp.
As for the conducting, Solti is Solti - exciting, precise, a little hard-driven at times and inclined to be episodic. As always, he draws ravishing sounds from the Vienna Philharmonic and his familiar Decca engineers do him proud by the standards of the day.
This is certainly a candidate for a top recommendation Parsifal with its great singing cast and its (relatively) modern sound. Personally, though, I'd go back to the 1951 Knappertsbusch and settle for the more dated sound.
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on 31 January 2011
I have owned the 1962 Bayreuth performance conducted by Knappertsbusch for twenty years and one cannot help noticing, especially as compared to the Decca version, the disadvantages of the Festpielhaus's covered pit: loss of high frequencies and orchestral colour and restricted dynamic range so that the experience is less moving and thrilling than Solti's version. If only I had bought it earlier! In every way it is outstanding: no expense was spared to get the best possible cast, down to Kiri Te Kanawa as one of the Flower Maidens. The Vienna Boys' Choir is also striking in the Temple scenes. The recording is vintage Decca with orchestra and singers perfectly balanced and with plenty of depth of perspective so that one has the impression of watching a stage performance.

Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic are wonderful throughout, ecstatically uplifting, and Solti knows just how to pace this work so that it never once hangs fire not even during Gurnemanz's monologues (Gottlob Frick must of course take a lot of credit too); indeed, the opera seems amazingly short (and there is nothing longer or more tedious than a bad "Parsifal"). Solti also brings out more orchestral detail and colour than most, maintaining constant interest and fascination. He sees the work more as drama than as a religious work. I personally find Wagner's religiosity cloying and sentimental, so welcome a version in which this aspect is not over-stressed.

One is left wondering if this isn't after all Wagner's masterpiece. Certainly I have never heard a performance to match this one though, if you can afford it, Knappertsbusch's Bayreuth version deserves a place on the shelves too, offering as it does a very different view of "Parsifal".

P.S. Having said that about the Knappertsbusch version, I no longer feel any desire to listen to it. Listening to "Parsifal" being only an occasional experience, I prefer it to be an exceptionally inspiring one - and that means Solti and the VPO.
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on 30 July 2008
The standard comment on this recording, as on most of Sir Georg Solti's work, is that it's too intense and visceral and 'lacks spirituality'. Well, maybe so....but this criticism overlooks the fact that Parsifal, is a music drama - and 'drama' is something Solti was always able to provide in spades. It's what made him the supreme conductor of recorded opera; and, to my mind, this is his greatest opera recording. All of the principal singers are well inside their roles and give exciting, sometimes hair-raising performances: we agonise with Fischer-Dieskau during Amfortas' 'klag'; we feel Kundry's agony through Christa Ludwig's powerful and varied performance; and we travel with Kollo's Parsifal on his journey to self-awareness. Throw in vintage Decca analogue sound and the presence of a real stage 'picture' (listen on headphones whererver possible) and you have a 'performance' of Parsifal, as opposed to just a recording.
It should not, however, be your only recording of this opera: also seek out Karajan and (especially) Kubelik, as well as Knappertsbusch's earlier mono set (his stereo remake I consider overrated). This is, though, an ideal Parsifal for the first-timer.
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on 13 December 2010
I have the fifties Knappertsbusch recording, and agree with the concensus that it enshrines a perfect reading of the spiritual dimensions of the work. However, we should remember that this is Wagner, and the profane and carnal is every bit as central to his vision as the metaphysical elements. It is the vital sysnthesis of these two paradigms that make the Solti interpretation the most energised and complete on disc. That this supreme interpretation is sung so brilliantly by the finest cast on record (Frick surpasses even Hotter as far as I am concerned) and recorded with such clarity and richness makes this an automatic first choice for this difficult (in all kinds of ways) but utterly transforming masterpiece.
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on 19 March 2016
The usual strange mixture of torpor and hyperactivity I found on Solti's Tannhauser emerges here. Though I found it more in keeping with Parsifal's abstract dreamlike setting than the concrete singspiel reality of the Wartburg. For example, the compelling and disciplined orchestral start to Act II immediately breaks down as soon as the singing starts - the Scene I here between Klingsor and Kundry is noticeably laboured and Christa Ludwig seems to be on a different page, if not mentally in a different opera. It's awful.

There is a feeling of being weighed down by age as a burden rather than an uplifting, spiritual , autumnal experience as with Hotter in the iconic and celebrated Knappertsbusch 1962 Philips live recording from Bayreuth with its fabulous roster singers. It's not just age that debars Frick at this stage in his career from turning out a magnificent Gurnemanz - he has the WRONG type of voice, too dark and saturnine for this hermit of the the sacred forest.

Kollo, again as Solti's go-to Heldentenor is rather better here than in the more challenging roles of Tannhauser (or the Emperor in Solti's Salzburg DVD of Die Frau ohne Schatten) but that does not mean that he compares with either a resplendent Jess Thomas or Jon Vickers in the 60s or (I think under colossal strain to judge by his voice) an emotionally charged James King for Boulez in 1977.

Kelemann must have looked good on paper - there is the right timbre, the projection of evil in the voice which is flexible and ringing - but here he seriously under performs. This performance isn't anywhere near the intensity required as displayed by Donald MacIntyre or Gustav Neidlingerand falls far short of his considerable best - if his Pizarro for Karajan in the Salzburg Fidelio is anything to go by.

In the midst of this disaster zone of miscasting and awkward delivery is planted Fischer-Dieskau's Amfortas who seriously hams up the acting side of the role with half baked phrasing that produces a self regarding image of the knight in pain. It just doesn't sound sincere. The singing is reaching for expressive turns and fails the first test of a great opera performance: singing with heart and soul directly to the audience. For that go to George London or Thomas Stewart who sing it to the manner born and not in smoothie Wagner executive style as adopted here in front of the Decca microphones.

I can't believe he was this wooden when he sang the role live at Bayreuth.

All in all this is such a compromised excursion into a problematic Wagnerian spectacle that one must put it some distance behind other versions available which all have something valid to offer which to my mind Solti and his cast does not. Even the photo of the maestro on the booklet gives the inadvertent impression of a tour guide welcoming us on a rather tedious coach tour of Bayreuth for the over 60s.
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on 3 March 2016
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on 1 May 2016
Ok on time
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on 10 January 2012
We knew this could only be good. The recording has lived up its reputation and to our expectations and it arrived speedily, well in time for Christmas.
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