Here's one I prepared earlier, now let out of its cage. Look no further if you haven't listened to my Building a Library on Parsifal, just broadcast, and you're postponing revelation until you catch it on iPlayer for the week, or whatever this clip facility now up and running might be (17/!2: my producer tells me it should be 'up there until the end of days', or of the BBC, whichever comes first. There's also a podcast, which you can download here). I'll even stick in a further grail image, 'the one', ho hum, in Valencia Cathedral, to delay a glimpse of the winning cover.
The choice, for the first time in my 20-odd years of doing the programme, was totally obvious. So many folk have said to me over the past few months, 'of course you'll go for Knappertsbusch '62'. I thought I would when I listened again to Hans Hotter as Gurnemanz in Act One. But it became ever clearer to me as I listened to the three 'Kna' Bayreuth Parsifals currently doing the rounds - also including his first, from 1951, and his last of 1964, not long before his death - that I didn't want this kind of hard-hitting so often.
Kna's style does make for magnificent pinnacles - Hotter's 'O wunden-wundervoller heilige Speer' ('62) and George London's 'Erbarmen' in Act 1 ('51), Jon Vickers' 'Amfortas! Die Wunde!' in Act 2 ('64) - but what I've always sought since Haitink showed me the light at Covent Garden, conducting Bill Bryden's mostly intelligent production, is a naturalness that doesn't need to reiterate the spirituality and grandeur. As Mark Wigglesworth remarked when he came to talk to my Opera in Focus class the other week, Parsifal gives and gives while Tristan simply takes and leaves you exhausted. A great conductor needs to guide and give space where necessary, of course, but not to impose his (I await a 'her') will.
Which the great Rafael Kubelik never does. A few clever folk knew of this 1980 studio recording's existence but I certainly didn't before I came to listen and nor did my Parsifal-crazy producer Clive Portbury. He agrees that it's incomparably the best of what we have.
Runners-up I don't need to mention again here, but I do urge you to see the DVD of Hans Hollman's Zurich production. It would qualify alone as the only document of Haitink's conducting, but it's also the most quietly moving staging I've seen, trusting to the singers' stillness in the outer acts and - most important of all - respecting the transcendence of the grail ritual for all the suffering that surrounds it. The vital antidote, in short, to Stephen Langridge's Royal Opera horror. The students all thought so when I screeened Act Three in an extra class on Monday, and many wiped away the tears that simply hadn't flowed at Covent Garden.
I have a feeling that might happen when the Met production with Jonas Kaufmann comes out on DVD in February; from the images I've seen it appears much more in the right region than the one we're enduring in London. In the meantime, snap this up while you can; Gatti's conducting won't surpass Haitink's, and probably won't come anywhere near.
Alas, there are no clips on YouTube so I'll move sideways to seasonal seriousness. On the same Tuesday when my preparation schedule had been eaten up by the flying visit to 'do a telly', I took the BBC Symphony Orchestra class through two very different responses to the Flight into Egypt story, tied in with the chance to hear the two works in question tonight and tomorrow afternoon. Berlioz's painfully beautiful, intimate L'Enfance du Christ located the narrative close to the centre in the hands of the tenor 'Evangelist'. We had Anthony Rolfe-Johnson returning to life so scrupulously for John Eliot Gardiner, but all I could find on YouTube was Alain Vanzo not at his considerable best for Jean Martinon. So let's make do with that.
Like Britten's best poetry compilations, John Adams's El Niño would be admirable just as a sequence of magical words tellingly juxtaposed, without even taking into account the extraordinary music which of course layers it still further. I look forward to experiencing it tonight without Peter Sellars' stage 'realisation', so enervating when the 2000 Paris original came to London. Adams for his supernatural epilogue turns to the charming and naive Gospel According to Pseudo-Matthew for a rest beneath a rather unusual palm tree, and juxtaposes it with the last of the stunning Mexican poems by Rosario Castellanos, a revelation to me.
As the soundclip doesn't offer a translation of the Castellanos poem, I take the liberty of reproducing it here:
Lady of the winds,
heron of the plains,
when you sway
your waist sings.
Gesture of prayer
or prelude of wings,
you are the cup into which the skies
pour one by one.
From the dark land of men
I've come kneeling to behold you,
Tall, naked, alone.
So the text resounds and melts into a single repeated word in the mouths of children - 'poesía'.
15/12 What a weekend it's been. My Arts Desk reviews are now up of El Niño here and of L'Enfance du Christ here. Don't whatever you do miss the Radio 3 broadcast of the ineffably moving Berlioz performance on the iPlayer here for the next week.