Wagner: Parsifal

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Marston
WORKS: Parsifal
PERFORMER: Martial Singher, Fred Destal, Alexander Kipnis, Fritz Krenn, René Maison, Marjorie Lawrence; Teatro Colón Chorus & Orchestra/Fritz Busch
CATALOGUE NO: 53003-2 ADD mono
Primitive sound, live-performance roughness, cuts and the use of multiple languages (the cast sings in German, the chorus in Italian) eliminate this newly unearthed 1936 Buenos Aires performance from serious consideration as a benchmark version. Nevertheless, it constitutes a significant addition to the Wagner discography. Its primary attraction is the Gurnemanz of Alexander Kipnis, whose 1927 Columbia recording from Bayreuth of the Good Friday scene is one of the greatest recorded Parsifal excerpts. Heard almost whole, Kipnis’s impersonation makes a towering impression: the combination of glamourously deep and vibrantly spinning sound, perceptive dramatic comprehension, and vivid if broadly Slavic diction elevates his performance above even the eloquent Gurnemanz portrayals of Ludwig Weber (Knappertsbusch) and Kurt Moll (Karajan).

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Kipnis’s colleagues, few of whom recorded any of Parsifal commercially, also offer worthy and welcome interpretations. Martial Singher, who did record the two monologues in French, endows Amfortas with dignified desperation, and Marjorie Lawrence sings with gleaming tone and forceful conviction, although her over-musical screams at the beginning of Act II underplay Kundry’s wild, tormented side. René Maison’s Parsifal is mostly well-shaded and deeply felt, though it is compromised at key moments (particularly ‘Nur eine Waffe taugt’) by feverishly precipitous tempi from Fritz Busch, whose work in the more devotional music – by contrast – is beautifully patient yet fervent. Knappertsbusch’s momentous intensity ultimately cuts deeper, and Barenboim offers a valid option if modern sound is a requirement, but anyone interested in Golden Age Wagner will be grateful for this inspiring performance. David Breckbill