Ultime chronique anglophone rescapée du passé, une critique du Parsifal de Kubelik, et un rapide point sur la discographie de
The appearance of a forgotten studio recording of such an opera like Parsifal is definitely one of the most
pleasing fantasies of many opera lovers. And this dream has come true for the second time with the neglected conductor Rafael Kubelik. A few years ago, his Meistersinger appearead after having
been hidden for 20 years, and immediately became the modern reference for the work. The reason for the disappearance of that wonderful set was the unwillingness of DG to release a rival recording
to Jochum's, released by DG a few months later. Looking at the recording date (5/81) of this Parsifal published this month by Arts, we may guess it was a DG studio recording replaced at
the last minute by Karajan's project of recording his famous set. Alas, the story behind this hidden Parsifal is not explained in the accompanying notes - so mystery remains. Anyway, we can now
listen to this perfect DDD recording starring no less than King, Minton, Moll, Weikl, Salminen and Mazura.
Kubelik's qualities are the main interest of the set, since the cast is well known from other recordings. His Parsifal is enlightened by his usual musicianship, and this definitely one of the most musical performances of this work ever recorded. All phrases display refined lyrism and elegance, and the beauty of his transparent textures and strong sense of poetry are unequalled in the discography. The closing of act I and the Holy Friday are surpassingly beautiful - they may lack the fascinating colors and phrasing of Karajan's, but are far more spontaneous. This approach to the score is obviously less successful in act II, when theater has priority over music. Differently from the strong dive into spirituality and drama Knappertsbusch and Boulez (in their contrasted manners) or from Solti's spectacular movie-like atmosphere or from sublime Karajan's oratorio-like performance, Kubelik plays the score with fairytale-like Romanticism and true musicianship. If such a view cannot impose itself as a reference (the absence of sense of theatre is a definitive shortcoming), we still have a most pleasant musical experience I am sure I will be back to, when tired of intellectualism, darkness or mannerism of the rival sets.
The cast is glamourous, and the main disadvantage is to be consistent with the conductor on giving pride of place to music. Yvonne Minton is a perfect singer, and only Ludwig shows so much vocal beauty in the role: her Kundry is always well-sung, with a firm and seductive tone, but I would have appreciated sometimes less control and more of the animal magnetism the great Kundrys from Modl to Meier have always projected in the role. It is difficult to realize the sinful aspects and basic erotism of the character. Similary, Bernd Weikl's Amfortas is wonderfully sung, and his voice was magnificient at this time. However, behind the welcome austerity, his suffering lacks intensity. James King was almost 55 years old at the time of the recording, and if there are sometimes some clues of wear, the voice is still a golden one. His second act suffers from the general lack of drama. As soon as the third act begins, he displays a rare sense of nuance and a touching sense of poetry, aided by the profound inspiration of Kubelik and Kurt Moll, resulting on one of the most beautiful Holy Friday scenes ever recorded. Since Gurnemanz requires a subtle and moving narrator above all, Kurt Moll is not affected by Kubelik's concept, but builds his performance on his Liedersinger idea of the role. His marvellous dialogue with Kubelik's orchestra is something Karajan would never permit and Levine would drown in sound. Kurt Moll is here in his most beautiful voice, ideally recorded, and his great artistry is shown at its best. This Gurnemanz is the jewell of this recording. The young Franz Mazura has no problems in such a role, and Matti Salminen is a sumptuous Titurel. A few words about the beautiful performances in the secondary roles, among them Lucia Popp's and the singers of the Tölzer Knabenchor's.
In conclusion, this Parsifal will not bring the discography upside down as Kubelik's Meistersinger did when it appeared in similar conditions. Nevertheless, the romantic and lyric concept of Rafael Kubelik is quite pleasant, and listening to such wonderful music without the usual esoteric charge of suffering and darkness is a most satisfying experience.
One may wonder how one should rank this new Parsifal in the discography ? Parsifal's discography is according to me dominated by Knappertsbusch 51, which, 50 years later, continues to offer the most fascinating atmosphere of mystery and enchantment, helped by singers who are capable of providing the dramatic truth of each charachter. Krauss 53 (for Krauss himself), Knappertsbusch 64 (for Vickers) and Knappertsbusch 62 (for homogeneity and recorded sound) are the other most satisfying entries from Bayreuth, but definitely not in the same class of the 1951 edition. Boulez has his admirers: his orchestra is subtle, unequalled in its precision, modernism and clarity, but the cast has a low dramatic involvement and suffers from the fatal lack of eloquence of his Gurnemanz. Levine 1985, in spite of the musical quality of the American conductor is not really a concurrent: too many singers are below the expected standards of the discography.
There are only five studio concurrents for Kubelik : Solti, Jordan, Karajan, Levine and Barenboim. Jordan is interesting but a level below the others, and Barenboim is in disadvantage because of absence of a true Gurnemanz. Levine is unimaginative, poorly recorded (Moll!) and suffers form the marketing department ideas about casting: an aristocratic Norman and a fussy Domingo. Solti's concept lacks subtlety , and I must admit the Gottlob Frick's then worn voice has always been a problem for me, but less than the exagerated accents of Fischer-Dieskau or the blankness of Kollo. Karajan's recording is so full of shortcomings (absence of sense of theater, mannerism, too many disappointing soloists) and so full of sublime fascinating ideas or enlightments that it cannot be compared to anything else and is absolutely necessary, if not sufficient by itself. I would say Kubelik is certainly the best studio recording of the opera, and if I would recommend first Knappertsbusch 51, my clear recommandation for a first well-recorded version would be Kubelik. Again I would point out the mandatory purchase of both Karajan and Boulez. A final plead: you, editors, please do not hesitate about forgotten studio recordings we are waiting for all them!