Hans Knappertsbusch The Opera Edition (19CD)
Label
Decca Eloquence
Catalogue No.
4841800
Barcode
0028948418008
Format
19-CD
Video
About

A priceless collection of Hans Knappertsbusch’s opera recordings made for Universal Music labels, including the legendary live Parsifal performances of both 1951 and 1962, the Vienna studio Die Meistersinger of 1950-51, the Munich Fidelio of 1961, as well as operatic excerpts and highlights.

For singers such as Birgit Nilsson, Jon Vickers, George London and Hans Hotter, Knappertsbusch was the supreme Wagnerian. Audiences at the 1951 Bayreuth Festival were enraptured by the many beauties of his Parsifal – not only its patience but its steady unfolding, as if in a ritual, and the Decca recording became the first complete set of the opera on LP. Reissued on CD by many different labels, it returns to Decca here in the company of the 1962 account from Bayreuth, quicker and more flexible and perhaps even more attuned to the human drama of Wagner’s final opera.

Perhaps no one has conducted Parsifal more frequently than Knappertsbusch: over 200 times during a career that spanned just over half a century. His Wagner interpretations gained their unique authority from his study of the operas at Bayreuth under the direction of Hans Richter and the composer’s son, Siegfried. His career was centred around performing all the mature music-dramas at the State Operas of Vienna and Munich, and latterly at Bayreuth. He had a bond of particular affection with the Vienna Philharmonic, and recorded albums of Wagnerian excerpts with them throughout the 1950s, including the Wesendonck Lieder and the First Act of Die Walküre with Kirsten Flagstad.

The complete studio recording of Die Meistersinger, from 1950-51, belies the idea that Knappertsbusch did not respond to a studio environment; it remains one of the most heart-warming accounts on disc. The same broad vein of humanism runs through his Fidelio recording with the Bavarian State Opera from 1961 and a strong cast led by a still youthful-sounding Jan Peerce and Sena Jurinac. Albums of Wagnerian excerpts from Zurich in 1947 preserve the artistry of Maria Reining and Paul Schöffler at their peak. Much here has long been unavailable on Decca; newly remastered, compiled with a new essay on the conductor’s life and career by Peter Quantrill, the set is an essential acquisition for both devotees and sceptics of Knappertsbusch’s fallible genius.

TRACK LISTING / ARTISTS

CDs 1–2
BEETHOVEN
Fidelio
Jan Peerce, Sena Jurinac, Deszö Ernster

CD 3
WAGNER
Tristan und Isolde (excerpts)
Birgit Nilsson, Grace Hoffman

CD 4
WAGNER
Die Walküre (Act I)
Kirsten Flagstad, Set Svanholm, Arnold van Mill

CDs 5–8
WAGNER
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Paul Schöffler, Hilde Gueden, Günther Treptow, Karl Dönch

CDs 9–12
WAGNER
Parsifal
Bayreuth, 1951
Wolfgang Windgassen, George London, Hermann Uhde, Martha Mödl

CDs 13–16
WAGNER
Parsifal
Bayreuth, 1962
Jess Thomas, George London, Gustav Neidlinger, Irene Dalis

CD 17
Kirsten Flagstad sings Wagner

CD 18
George London sings Wagner

CD 19
RICHARD STRAUSS
Der Rosenkavalier

WAGNER
Tannhäuser
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
(excerpts)
Maria Reining, Paul Schöffler

MONO: CDs 5–12, 19
STEREO: CDs 1–4, 13–18

Recording information

CDs 1-2
Recording Producer: Dr. Kurt List
Balance Engineers: Adolf Enz, Raymond Füglistaler
Editor: Ursula Stenz
Recording Location: Munich, Germany, 20 December 1961–1 January 1962
Original Westminster Releases: WST 318 (stereo), XWN 3318 (mono): 1962

CD 3
Recording Producers: Christopher Raeburn, John Culshaw
Balance Engineers: Gordon Parry, James Brown
Recording Location: Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria, 22–25 September 1959
Original Decca Release: SXL 2184: February 1960

CD 4
Recording Producers: John Culshaw, Erik Smith
Balance Engineers: Gordon Parry, James Brown
Recording Location: Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria, 28–30 October 1957
Original Decca Releases: LXT 5429–30 / SXL 2074–75: May 1959

CDs 5-8
Recording Producer: Victor Olof
Balance Engineer: Cyril Windebank
Recording Location: Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, Austria, 2–9 September 1950 (Act II), 11–20 September 1951 (Acts I & III)
Original Decca Releases: LXT 2560–61 (Act II): January 1951, LXT 2646–50 (Acts I & III): January 1952, LXT2659–64 (complete opera): January 1952

CDs 9-12
Recording Producer: John Culshaw
Balance Engineer: Kenneth Wilkinson
Recording Location: Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, Germany, 30 July, 6, 18, 22 & 25 August 1951– live recording
Original Decca Releases: LXT 2651–56: January 1952

CDs 13-16
Recording Producer: Wieland Wagner
Balance Engineer: unknown
Recording Location: Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, Germany, August 1962 – live recording
Original Philips Release: SAL 3475–79: 1964

CD 17
Recording Producers: Peter Andry
Balance Engineers: James Brown
Recording Location: Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria, 13–15 May 1956
Original Decca Releases: LXT 5249 (mono): November 1956; SDD 212: January 1970

CD 18
Recording Producer: John Culshaw
Balance Engineers: James Brown, Gordon Parry
Recording Location: Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria, 9–11 June 1958
Original Decca Release: LXT 5478 / SXL 2068: February 1959

CD 19
Recording Producers: Victor Olof (Die Meistersinger: Fliedermonolog); unknown (Der Rosenkavalier, Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger: Gut’n Abend)
Balance Engineers: Arthur Haddy (Die Meistersinger: Fliedermonolog); unknown (Der Rosenkavalier, Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger: Gut’n Abend)
Transfers and Audio Restoration: Mark Obert-Thorn
Recording Location: Radio Studio, Zurich, Switzerland, 26 June 1949 (Der Rosenkavalier, Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger: Gut’n Abend), 18 June 1947 (Die Meistersinger: Fliedermonolog)
Matrix nos.: SAR 396 & 399 (Der Rosenkavalier); SAR 400–01 (Tannhäuser); SAR 397–98 (Die Meistersinger: Gut’n Abend, Meister); SAR 170–71 (Die Meistersinger: Fliedermonolog)
Original Decca Releases: K 28164–66 (Der Rosenkavalier, Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger: Gut’n Abend): September 1950, LX 3021 (Der Rosenkavalier, Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger: Gut’n Abend): May 1951; K 1731 (Die Meistersinger: Fliedermonolog): March 1948

Reviews

‘One of the great achievements in the history of the gramophone … For years to come, this set of records will be treasured as an almost perfect realization of Wagner’s last, strangest and deepest thoughts.’ The Record Guide (Parsifal, 1951)

‘Schöffler is probably the best Sachs now living; his performance is full of wisdom and mellow humour… beautifully articulated and audible detail in all parts of the orchestra.’ The Record Guide (Die Meistersinger)

‘Knappertsbusch’s rendering [of the Prelude] is so good that we sit back comfortably without a trace of misgiving. We feel the music is in good hands … Schöffler as Sachs is outstanding. His characterization is strong and vivid, the phrasing effective and the intonation almost uniformly true … Fine ensemble in the choral singing and a remarkable understanding between orchestra and singers … No one could fail to be delighted.’ Irish Monthly, April 1952 (Die Meistersinger)

‘Well-nigh ideal … The main cast could hardly have been better chosen … Above all, the conductor must be congratulated upon an interpretation which, in natural musicality, passion and subtlety, will not easily find its equal.’ Opera, August 1952 (Parsifal, 1951)

‘Here is Wagner set forth in the grand old manner and with unerring musical conviction  … Sets a standard of stereophonic opera recording which may well serve as the yardstick for most future efforts in the field … This recording represents the most authentic Wagnerian styling to be had at this time…’ Stereo Review, December 1958 (Die Walküre, Act I)

‘The tempos Knappertsbusch adheres to throughout are slow but never sluggish. Clearly his is a highly personal view of a tremendously difficult work… The recorded sound is all that it should be, utterly transparent and full-bodied.’ Stereo Review, November 1962 (Fidelio)

‘Knappertsbusch’s stately, architecturally conceived interpretation suits this gigantic score brilliantly. In his hands, the indescribably splendid orchestral sonorities, the magnificent choruses and the individual singers’ contributions are fused into a glowing revelation.’ Stereo Review, May 1965 (Parsifal)

‘An enormously impressive achievement … The tempos here are less slow than one might have expected from this conductor – everything is made to move along, although the fervent spirit of the music and text is always foremost. The balances between soloists and orchestra are extremely good, and the recorded sound is remarkably clear.’ Stereo Review, November 1965 (Parsifal 1962)

‘As Gurnemanz, Hotter and Weber are both overwhelming in their own quite different ways. Of course, Philips has the fuller, richer sound, but the 1951 recording is still astoundingly good for “on location” work.’ High Fidelity, December 1967 (Parsifal)

‘this is how great music sounds in the hands of fine musicians when it is truly known and loved’ Gramophone (Parsifal, 1962)