WAGNER: Parsifal excerpts:
What incredible treasures Naxos offers the collector here! The Knappertsbusch live recording of Parsifal, the first complete recording of the work, was made in 1951 at Bayreuth for Decca, produced by John Culshaw, engineered by the legendary Kenneth Wilkinson. Casting is perfect pairing some superb younger singers (Wolfgang Windgassen and George London) with established Wagnerians (Hermann Uhde, Ludwig Weber and Martha M–dl). The occasion was historicthe first post-war Bayreuth season which had opened with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with Wilhelm Furtw”ngler conducting, a performance that has never been out of the catalog since its first issue. It is suggested Wieland Wagner chose Parsifal, with its theme of purification and redemption, as an appropriate way to cleanse the Festspielhaus after the disgrace of the Third Reich when Hitler had been an honored guest in the House. Although Philips made a live stereo recording of Parsifal with Knappertsbusch at Bayreuth eleven years later, the earlier recording is considered to be the conductor's finest Wagnerian recording. John Culshaw, in his book Setting the Record Straight, mentioned that Wilkinson solved acoustic problems by suspending a microphone high in the roof of the auditorium and blending that sound with closer microphones, mentioning they taped the general rehearsal and two performancesalthough in his book Ring Resounding Culshaw states they recorded two general rehearsals "plus four or five public performances."
Mark Obert-Thorn has worked his usual miracles in this transfer, pointing out some of the problems with the original recordingsall of which he has solved with the greatest craftsmanship.
Another remarkable performance is represented on the other Naxos 2-CD set issued in 1999 that features all of the music from Parsifal recorded by Karl Muck in Bayreuth 1927-28, as well as his recordings of excerpts recorded the following year with the Berlin State Opera Chorus and Orchestra. The set also contains the Good Friday Spell with Alexander Kipnis and Fritz Wolff and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra conducted by Siegfried Wagner, and four orchestral excerpts recorded acoustically in 1913 with the Berlin Philharmonic directed by Alfred Hertz. The latter made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1902 with Lohengrin and the following year conducted the first performance of Parsifal not presented in Bayreuth. From 1915 to 1930 Hertz was conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930), the only son of Wagner and Cosima, directed the Bayreuth Festival until his death after which his wife and two sons, Wolfgang and Wieland, assumed control of Bayreuth. It was for him (and Cosima) that Wagner composed Siegfried Idyll. Siegfried Wagner only conducted this recording of Good Friday Spell because Muck refused to do so when it had to be divided into three 78rpm sidesalthough he did conduct this music when it was recorded the following year in Berlin, also included in this fine set.
Karl Muck (1859-1940) was recognized as one of the finest Wagner conductors of his time. Beginning in 1901 for almost thirty years he directed performances of Parsifal at Bayreuth, and was conductor of the Boston Symphony from 1906 to 1918. There was a four-year break from 1908-1912 when the BSO was conducted by Max Fiedler. Muck's association with the Boston Symphony ended because of his support of Germany and initial refusal to conduct The Star-Spangled Banner before concerts; eventually he was arrested and imprisoned before returning to Germany. Muck's expertise raised the BSO to world standards. However, he was a rather contemptible pro-Nazi. According to Philip Hart's Orpheus in the New World, during Muck's last days in Boston he was having an affair with a 20-year old girl in Boston's Back Bay. A letter he wrote to her said, "I am on my way to the concert hall to entertain the crowds of dogs and swine who think that because they pay the entrance fee they have the right to dictate to me my selections. I hate to play for this rabble...In a very short time our glorious Kaiser will smile on my request and recall me to Berlin.....Our Kaiser will be prevailed upon to see the benefit to the Fatherland of my obtaining a divorce and making you my own." This liaison with a woman more than a half-center younger than Muck never developed further; perhaps the young lady was lucky. In spite of his rather disreputable personal character, Muck was a master of the orchestra and these Wagner recordings are magnificent. They also give us the opportunity to hear the famed original "Bayreuth bells" requested by the composer and specially cast for the premiere in 1882. Their sound is impressive indeeda BIG metallic soundthey can be heard in both performances in this set as when HMV made their 1928 recording they had the huge bells shipped to Berlin. Unfortunately in the early '40s the bells were melted down for the German war effort. Had they not been, they probably would have continued in use at Bayreuth. At least, thanks to Naxos, we have this opportunity to hear them.
As with the complete Parsifal recording above, Mark Obert-Thorn's remasterings are perfection. No texts, but there is a track by track synopsis of proceedings. Absolutely essential recordings for collectors!