Thursday, July 06, 2006

A very good day

Today, fresh from's warehouse, came my Knappertsbusch Parsifal (Philips' recording at the 1962 Festspiele) and Keilberth Walküre.

Knappertsbusch is a known quantity, like so many other standard recordings. However, unlike a lot of classic discs, his quantity is excellence. Every note, every phrase, and the achingly-beautiful arching architecture of the "long line" has that elusive and ineluctable feel of correctness. There is some crowd noise, not a major problem, but still - one wants complete silence for the Vorspiel. The tempi are on the slow side, but that isn't a problem - Knappertsbusch creates such tension that the tempi are (almost) an irrelevancy. The cast is nothing if not excellent, but I would really rather have caught James King in the eponymous role. Jess Thomas was no mean tenor, and he certainly captures the youthful side of Parsifal; however, as referenced by the 1970 Boulez recording, King was a Heldentenor in the line of Melchior. I am not saying that he was the equal of Melchior. However, to a greater or lesser degree, he possessed that dark - almost baritonal - tone that made Melchior so wonderful. In any event, this disc is a superlative record. Thielemann is almost as good, with better sound, though - if that were an issue.

The Keilberth disc is another excellent record from that 1955 cycle. Testament has managed a triumph out of Verdi with the records released so far. His sensitivity to the score, drama, and another excellent Golden Age cast are once again blindingly apparent. Walküre, though, is a crowded field. The feel here is somewhat more relaxed than Karl Böhm's 1967 record; if one needs this opera to sweat blood, it does. However, it is not the nervous tension that Böhm created. This is the energy that Wagner created. Each phrase is crafted expertly by a conductor and band that understood Wagner. Buy it. This cycle will probably be about $400, but it seems like it might be the only cycle anyone needs.


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