Hans Knappertsbusch
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
July/August 1951
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasGeorge London
TiturelArnold van Mill
GurnemanzLudwig Weber
ParsifalWolfgang Windgassen
KlingsorHermann Uhde
KundryMartha Mödl
GralsritterWalther Fritz
Werner Faulhaber

Knappertsbusch conducting; “not only the best Parsifal that I have ever seen or heard, but one of the three or four most moving spiritual experiences of my life” — Ernest Newman, the distinguished critic and musicologist, after attending this fabled opening (1951) of Wieland Wagner’s Neu Bayreuth production; Windgassen/Moedl provide great excitement, deep commitment and some vocal compromises — Windgassen, for one, is occasionally a bit raw; but the entire cast is still musically solid; they may not have the nth degree of musicianship, but they cohere as an ensemble under one of the greatest musicians ever: Hans Knappertsbusch, known affectionately as “Kna,” whose conducting shows an unequalled understanding of this work; he combines profound inwardness with an instinct for narrative drive that yields an eminently theatrical reading, even in Wagner’s problematic first act — a rare mix of depth and untramelled flow; despite the occasional musical slip-up from an otherwise assured cast, Kna alone makes this already special, and Wieland Wagner’s sure grasp of character development captures the listener’s imagination throughout; in excellent Mono, conveying a vivid sound picture of Wagner’s score as it was meant to be heard in the Bayreuth Festpielhaus acoustics.

Geoffrey Riggs

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 historic—the 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 performances—although 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 recordings—all of which he has solved with the greatest craftsmanship.

David Breckbill

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Decca, Richmond
Decca, Naxos, Teldec, Membran, TIM, Zyx, Line, TOL, OOA
Technical Specifications
587 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.1 GByte (flac)
From the Bayreuth festival
A production by Wieland Wagner (1951)