> Wagner Parsifal Mechior Flagstad [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Parsifal Act II complete
Lauritz Melchior – Parsifal
Kirsten Flagstad – Kundry
Arnold Gabor - Klingsor
Vocal Ensemble and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera New York
Erich Leinsdorf
With Finale to Act III, a composite performance with Lauritz Melchior and Herbert Janssen from ?1948, splicing Nur eine Waffe taugh from commercially issued Victor disc (Victor1938)
GUILD GHCD 2201 [76’21]


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Legal complications have meant that Guild has now taken over from Naxos in the valuable undertaking of producing and issuing not only the NBC Toscanini concerts series but also the substantial array of Met broadcasts of 1938-44. It should first be noted that this Parsifal in its entirety was issued on Myto some years ago but that source material was derived from acetate discs which meant side breaks every seven minutes or so. Guild’s source is different and in significantly better sound and is not subject to the somewhat ruinous dislocations that invariably marred the earlier release – and in addition has been judiciously equalized, retaining necessary frequencies whilst also including inevitable surface noise. Richard Caniell’s notes set the scene.

This is the only surviving example of Flagstad and Melchior on stage – in this annual Met Parsifal (they were to leave studio performances of course) – but we are especially fortunate in its preservation because there were no further Parsifal broadcasts until 1952. The recording was made by a New York dubbing service for a university professor who preserved Act II only. Pressings were sixteen 12" aluminium discs and have survived in a generally excellent state of preservation – there is some groove wear, occasionally troublesome, and some ticks, seldom intrusive; a few seconds of patching from Flagstad’s commercial recording has proved necessary because of a clipped chord at one point in the disc changeover. It needs to be stressed however that the Act has been captured with far better than anticipated clarity and presence and those who know the performance from the Myto issue – or who may have heard Edward J Smith’s private LP pressing – will need this new incarnation.

Leinsdorf conducted Act II whilst Bodansky took the outer Acts. A certain amount of confusion has surrounded this arrangement, some writers even going so far as to say that Bodansky, who died the following year, suffered a mild heart attack after Act I but recovered sufficiently to take over Act III from Leinsdorf which seems highly improbable, even given the rejuvenatory powers of Wagnerian conducting. What is far more likely is that Leinsdorf, who had been assigned the earlier Parsifal performance on April 13th because the ailing Bodansky’s doctors had advised him to rest, was in attendance on the 18th to split the burden with the veteran conductor. Bodansky was notorious for his cuts and for his energetic tempi and Leinsdorf is certainly nothing if not passionate. His tempi are inclined to the tumultuous, surging forward, intent on external drama rather at the expense of internal growth. In Met stalwart Arnold Gabor he had a Klingsor of unspectacular but highly musicianly stature; seldom emoting or caricaturing. Flagstad’s entrances in this Act are of feminine ease, lacking the declamatory fervour most often to be associated with her. Here she is elegant and seductive, her range even and controlled, her impersonation of Kundry complete in the minutest verbal detail. Melchior is in magnificent voice, strident, urgent, pensive, alive to the unfathomable twists of his encounter with Kundry, commandingly flexible. As a pendant there is a fourteen-minute excerpt from a later production with an ungainly splice from one of Melchior’s commercial discs as noted above. Guild will release the excerpt in its entirety in their release devoted to Herbert Janssen. I wish Guild had given us the names of the Flower maidens. As for the performance it’s a unique recorded event in sound better than it has ever received.

Jonathan Woolf

See also reviews by Chris Fifield and Robert Farr

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