Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
R E V I E W S:
Disc of the Month - Performance ***** Recording *****
"What really distinguishes this, though, is Gergiev. His reading is vivid and luminous, generally expansive but with fluidly shifting tempos, unashamedly guilty of theatrical excitement. Gergiev, with the vigorous Mariinsky chorus and orchestra, achieves a glowing translucency in both choral and orchestral textures." – BBC Music Magazine
"Above all, this is Gergiev’s Parsifal and it is the superlatively good playing of the Mariinsky Orchestra that, with Pape’s gloriously sung Gurnemanz, makes this new set essential
listening for Wagnerians." – International Recording Review
***** "Gergiev presumably wanted to record a Parsifal that measured up to the international competition ... and he's certainly succeeded." – The Guardian (UK)
Valery Gergiev, cond; Gary Lehman (
); René Pape (
); Evgenyi Nikitin (
); Violetta Urmana (
); Nikolai Putilin (
); Alexei Tanovitski (
); Mariinsky Theatre O & Ch
MARIINSKY MAR 0508 (4 SACDs: 258:35
Text and Translation)
For the past couple of decades, it’s been fairly unusual for James Levine to voluntarily surrender the podium to another conductor when Wagner’s on the bill at the Metropolitan Opera. A few musicians have received that honor, including Lorin Maazel, Donald Runnicles, and Philippe Auguin. Leading the pack, though, is Valery Gergiev, with more than 20 Wagner appearances at the Met. These include five
s in 2003—I attended one and it was mesmerizing. Now, the Mariinsky label gives us a Gergiev
recorded over nine days in June of 2009 in St. Petersburg, and it’s exceptional.
Gergiev’s act I Prelude doesn’t seem especially slow. Yet when it’s all over, this
is eight minutes longer than the classic 1962 Bayreuth recording led by Hans Knappertsbusch, certainly not one known to rush through the opera. Like Kna, Gergiev always knows where he’s headed and keeps musical structures, large and small, in view. In that act I Prelude, listen to how effectively the conductor contrasts the first 19 measures with the next 19. The sense of light/dark dichotomy, hope vs. despair, is palpable; the dialectic of the entire drama seems to be contained within those first moments of the work. The opera unfolds with dignity and grandeur, never with any aura of cultish ritual. Gergiev doesn’t overwhelm his singers, but always assures that the orchestra makes its illuminating commentary register. When Gurnemanz, in act I, describes how Kundry transformed a desert into the magic garden, Gergiev has us briefly feel a verdant, out-of-doors atmosphere. The conductor makes much of instrumental passages that even those very familiar with the score may not have thought much about, as when Gurnemanz is extracting the transformed Kundry from the underbrush at the outset of act III. The closing pages of the opera are beautiful beyond words.
Gergiev has a terrific cast to work with. René Pape is
Wagnerian bass of his generation, and he’s in especially good voice. This
really moves along, both because of Gergiev’s dramatic instincts and because Pape’s Gurnemanz functions as much more than a narrator. He’s a representative member of the Grail community and helps us to understand how they have suffered since Amfortas’s disaster. At key moments in his exposition, such as “O wunden-wundervoller heiliger Speer! Ich sah dich schwingen von unheiligster Hand!,” Pape makes the back story come alive.
Gary Lehman portrays a thoughtful Parsifal, his voice possessing more than adequate heft and an appealing timbre. Violeta Urmana, an experienced and much sought-after Kundry, is womanly but not slutty in act II, quite effectively turning up the heat as poor Parsifal fails to fall before her charms. The front cover of the box holding this SACD set lists only Lehman, Urmana, and Pape, presumably because they are international stars. This is terribly unfair to Evgeny Nikitin, the Amfortas. Amfortas is arguably the most interesting character in the opera and it takes an insightful singer in the role to take any
to an exalted level. Nikitin provides a lyrical and richly colored representation that is fully alert to the extremes of the king’s physical and psychological torment; it’s a performance reminiscent of what Thomas Hampson brings to the role. Another Russian singer, Nikolai Putilin, offers a Klingsor with just the right degree of bitterness: He sputters and shouts, but also
The orchestral playing is top-notch and the chorus well prepared (though the six Flowermaidens get a little squally when singing together). The sound is superb. Veteran producer James Mallinson (of Decca fame) oversees a best-seat-in-the-house sonic perspective. The orchestra has impressive weight and impact, yet there’s an admirably natural balance between instrumentalists and singers, the latter positioned behind the players, as we see in a photo in the set’s booklet. If you do multichannel, this is a good one: Your listening room will be commandeered by the spacious acoustic of the Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Works on This Recording
Parsifal by Richard Wagner
René Pape (Bass),
Nikolai Putilin (Baritone),
Violeta Urmana (Soprano),
Gary Lehman (Tenor),
Evgeny Nikitin (Baritone),
Alexei Tano Vitski (Bass)
St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra,
St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Chorus
Written: 1877-1882; Germany
Date of Recording: 6/2009
Venue: Live Mariinsky Concert Hall, St Petersbu
Featured Sound Samples
Parsifal: Act I: Verwandslungsmusik
Act I: "Nehmet vom Brot..."
Act II: "Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter brust"
Act III: "Du siehst, das ist nicht so"
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