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WAGNER Parsifal • Marek Janowski, cond; Christian Elsner (Parsifal); Franz-Josef Selig (Gurnemanz); Evgeny Nitikin (Amfortas); Eike Wilm Schulte (KlingsorRead more class="ARIAL12">); Dimitry Ivashchenko (Tiuturel); Michelle DeYoung (Kundry); Rundfunkchor Berlin; RSO Berlin • PENTATONE PTC 5186 401 (4 SACDs: 226:20 Text and Translation) Live: Berlin 4/8/11
PentaTone’s project to release all ten of Richard Wagner’s “mature” operas by the end of his 200th birthday year continues with Parsifal, a recording from a single performance in April of 2011. As with Die Meistersinger, Marek Janowski’s reading is faster than most, with a total timing of 3 hours and 45 minutes. (Of the other eight Parsifals on hand, only Boulez is quicker. What a surprise.) Janowski’s leadership throughout is authoritative but he’s especially successful with the churning, pressing chromaticism of act II, underscoring the contrast of Klingsor’s debased, overripe domain with the realm of the Grail. Act III’s Prelude is effectively paced, generating considerable tension. It registers as a companion piece to Meistersinger’s act III Vorspiel: by purely musical means, we’re reminded of all the critical issues yet to be resolved on stage. A quarter hour later, the orchestral passage that accompanies the hero’s return is heart-stopping, as the instrumentation thins out to a single line and we hold our breath for the arrival of what may be the saddest C?-Minor chord in all of opera. The act III iteration of the Transformation Music is entirely different than act I’s. If the first tells us we’re about to encounter a community that is sick and tired, the message the second time is that these desperate men are circling the drain.
So, Janowski provides propulsive direction with objectively brisk tempos. But how long this “Bühnenweihfestspiel” seems in the theater or on disc has a lot to do with the vocal performances, especially the gargantuan role of Gurnemanz. Franz-Josef Selig is definitely an A-List Wagner singer and this is his second commercial recording of the part, the first being with Christian Thielemann in the DG Parsifal “starring” Plácido Domingo. For me, Selig just doesn’t make the long narrative sections come alive, as do the current masters of the role, Matti Salminen, Robert Holl and, especially, René Pape. An annoyance is Selig’s occasional habit of squeezing out notes, seemingly an effort to make us aware of how miserable Gurnemanz is. (The issue was there on his earlier recording as well.) Things get better, vocally, after Parsifal returns with the holy spear and G’s mood improves.
Otherwise, the cast doesn’t disappoint in the least. Evgeny Nitikin sang Amfortas for Valery Gergiev on his recent SACD set (Mariinsky, MAR 0512) and manifests substantial instrument and excellent lyrical instincts, representing the King’s suffering without melodramatics. The Klingsor, Eike Wilm Schulte, colors his voice exactly right—grey and bodiless, a kind of aural manifestation of his character’s hypogonadism. The American soprano Michelle DeYoung—she’s performed Kundry at Bayreuth—sounds aptly sleep-deprived at the beginning of act II but quickly rises to the task Klingsor has assigned, her voice plush and seductive.
The big find here is Christian Elsner, a student of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who takes on the title role. His voice has a pleasing baritonal quality but also good ring on top. He gets the essence of Parsifal quite well, clueless in act I but already revealing evidence of enlightenment by the end of the middle act. The Kundry/Parsifal exchange in act II may be the top vocal attraction of this recording. It doesn’t appear that Elsner has had a tremendous amount of Wagner experience to this point, but he has sung Siegmund in Dresden, a part that is certainly very well suited to his voice. It would not be a surprise if the more demanding Heldentenor roles follow soon.
Simon Halsey has splendidly prepared the chorus and orchestral execution is beyond reproach. The high-resolution audio is superb, as usual for this label. I have no idea how the singers were positioned in the Berlin Philharmonie at the close of the outer acts, but there’s the aural illusion of voices coming from on high. (Good surround sound can do that.) As with the first two operas in PentaTone’s series, we get a lavish hardbound book that holds the four discs, with essays in three languages, the libretto in two, and artist bios in English only. If you’ve started collecting PentaTone’s Wagner, there’s no reason to stop now.
Parsifalby Richard Wagner Performer:
Franz-Josef Selig (Bass),
Evgeny Nikitin (Baritone),
Eike Wilm Schulte (Baritone),
Michelle DeYoung (Mezzo Soprano),
Christian Elsner (Tenor),
Dimitry Ivashchenko (Bass)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Berlin Radio Chorus
Period: Romantic Written: 1877-1882; Germany Date of Recording: 4/8/2011 Venue: Live Philharmonie, Berlin
Parsifal: Act I: Prelude
Parsifal: Act I: He! Ho! Waldhuter ihr (Gurnemanz, First knight)
Parsifal: Act I: Recht so! Habt Dank! Ein wenig Rast (Amfortas) - Gawan! Herr! Gawan weilte nicht (Amfortas, Second Knight, Gurnemanz)
Parsifal: Act I: He! Du da! Was liegst du dort wie ein wildes Tier? (Squires, Gurnemanz, Kundry)
Parsifal: Act I: O wunden-wundervoller heiliger Speer (Gurnemanz, Squires)
Parsifal: Act I: Titurel, der fromme Held (Gurnemanz, Squires)
Parsifal: Act I: Weh! - Hoho! - Auf - Wer ist der Frevler (Squires, Knights, Gurnemanz, )
Parsifal: Act I: Nun sag'! Nichts weisst du, was ich dich frage (Gurnemanz, , Kundry)
Parsifal: Act I: Vom Bade kehrt der Konig heim (Gurnemanz, )
Parsifal: Act I: Verwandlungsmusik
Parsifal: Act I: Nun achte wohl und lass mich seh'n (Gurnemanz) - Zum letzten Liebesmahle (Chorus)
Parsifal: Act I: Mein Sohn Amfortas, bist du am Amt? (Titurel, Amfortas)
Parsifal: Act I: Wehvolles Erbe, dem ich verfallen (Amfortas, Chorus)
Parsifal: Act I: Enthullet den Gral! (Titurel, Chorus) - Nehmet hin mein Blut (Chorus, Titurel)
Parsifal: Act I: Wein und Brot des letzten Mahles (Chorus)
Parsifal: Act I: Departure of the Knights - Was stehst du noch da? (Gurnemanz, Voice from Above, Chorus)
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Musically and intellectually outstandingAugust 7, 2012By John K. (New York, NY)See All My Reviews"A stunning performance of this extraordinary music. An amazingly vibrant, realistic recording. And the enclosed booklet unlike the usual brief "backgrounder." Besides the libretto and a synopsis, it contains a thoughtful analysis of everything that's wrong with Wagner's philosophy, with concurring quotations from Thomas Mann, Nietzsche, Debussy, Alban Berg, et al."Report Abuse