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Wagner: Parsifal / Goodall, Ellsworth, Meier, Joll

Release Date: 08/20/2010 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 65665   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Waltraud MeierDonald McIntyreWarren EllsworthNicholas Folwell,   ... 
Conductor:  Reginald Goodall
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Welsh National Opera ChorusWelsh National Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

No conductor has a greater understanding of Wagner's glorious command of motives, counterpoint and harmony -- his sound -- than Goodall.

The more one hears this work, the more one wonders at Wagner's glorious command of his motives, counterpoint and harmony. No conductor today has a greater understanding of this complex structure and, as he himself would have it, its Klang, than Goodall. So, on that ground alone, this is an important and deeply satisfying performance. But, it hardly needs saying that the opera has always brought the very best out of its interpreters. The two early Knappertsbusch versions on Decca and Philips, and the Karajan on DG listed above must rate in any canon of great recordings of the past. The
Read more Jordan (Erato) has much to offer and the Solti (Decca), though some way behind as a spiritual experience, is admirable purely as a recording. It is perhaps, progressing from purely musical to metaphysical considerations, the spiritual element in Goodall's reading that so impresses. In his eighties, Goodall seems to have peered even further into the work's meaning than in the past, and in page after page of the outer acts he conveys its mystical calibre in a way Knappertsbusch and to a slightly lesser extent Karajan have done in their recordings. The rich sonority Goodall demands can already be heard in the Prelude, and through the rich texture the trumpet line pierces like a spear. The First Act transformation music is similarly broad and timeless in its feeling. In the first Grail scene, the Eucharist motive is as luminous as it should be; even the slightly less inspired Communion-serving theme here has its due gravity.

In the Prelude to Act 3, the sense of Parsifal's effortful wandering is unerringly felt at Goodall's deliberate pace. The baptismal, 'coronation' and Good Friday music are ideally long in phrasing yet never over-emphasized, and the whole work moves to an inevitable, and incandescent climax in the second transformation and Parsifal's redeeming close. Against that must be set an unduly laboured account of the Flowermaidens' music, following on a call to arms from Klingsor that is stickily conducted. These kind of energetic passages have never been Goodall's strength, and he takes time to recover. "Ich sah das Kind" is too slow and sleepy, but from Amfortas's moment of truth Goodall builds the tension of the act's battle of wills between Kundry and the hero. What I miss throughout are the incisive accents and command of ensemble exhibited by Knappertsbusch and Karajan.

Of course, Goodall is renowned both as an orchestral and vocal coach. Here, he persuades the WNO orchestra to play to the considerable limit of their capabilities. Though it is not quite in the BP0 or Bayreuth class, the execution is quite dedicated enough to carry out their conductor's exigent demands. All of the cast have benefited enormously from the long preparation Goodall expects—most of all Donald McIntyre. At Cardiff, when a Goodall disciple convincingly took over from the master, his performance as Gurnemanz was appreciable, but it has now gained immeasurably in stature to be among the most compelling on record. In both the First Act and Third Act narrations, Goodall's long line supports McIntyre's vivid story-telling. His description of the dying swan's wounds is as moving as his recollection of Titurel's death, and the blessing of Parsifal in Act 3 has impressive authority. Throughout, line and words are kept in rewarding balance. Perhaps he lacks the sheer weight of tone that Weber (Knappertsbusch on Decca) and Moll (Karajan) exhibit, and just a little of the inner feeling of Hotter (Knappertsbusch on Philips) but his interpretation can certainly hold its own with all three, and I find it more deeply considered than Robert Lloyd's for Jordan.

Another special performance comes from Warren Ellsworth, the young American tenor. Deeply committed, almost to a fault, he lives every moment of the role as he did on stage, and he develops the character from uncomprehending stripling to saint-like redeemer by vocal means alone. And his voice is undoubtedly a true Heidentenor, perhaps best described as having the timbre of James King and the dramatic projection of Max Lorenz with some of the latter's propensity to take liberties over note values. He is securer at full voice than at mezza voce—which means that the quiet close to the end of Act 2 is a bit of a trial. His repelling of Kundry earlier in the act has a Vickers-like force. All in all, an exciting debut—a more vital Parsifal than any of his rivals, though Windgassen (Knappertsbusch/Decca) achieves as much by more disciplined singing, and Thomas (Knappertsbusch) is more inward.

Waltraud Meier is the new young mezzo now in demand everywhere. She didn't sing Kundry at Cardiff but has been imported for the records. Hers is an exciting, not ideally smooth voice, rather happier in the dramatic encounter with Parsifa I than in the earlier seductions. I am still unhappy with the modern trend for casting mezzos in this part which often lies very high, and Meier cannot hide signs of strain. Though she is already well within the part, she makes less of the text than her foreign colleagues, possibly because she hasn't worked so long with Goodall.

The one real disappointment of the set is Phillip Jolt's wobbly, drily sung and over-emoting Amfortas. This simply will not do on record.

Nicholas Folwell makes a suitably biting Klingsor, though not one to match Uhde (Knappertsbusch/Decca) or Nimsgern (Karajan). Flowermaidens are no more than adequate, the choral singing superb.

I would not rate this performance so high as either of the Knappertsbusch recordings or the Karajan, but Wagnerians will want to have it for the truthfulness and elevation of Goodall's read.

-- Gramophone [10/1985]
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Works on This Recording

Parsifal by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Waltraud Meier (Mezzo Soprano), Donald McIntyre (Bass), Warren Ellsworth (Tenor),
Nicholas Folwell (Bass), Phillip Joll (Baritone)
Conductor:  Reginald Goodall
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Welsh National Opera Chorus,  Welsh National Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877-1882; Germany 
Date of Recording: 06/1984 
Venue:  Brangwyn Hall, Swansea 
Language: German 

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