I do not propose to debate the merits of Parsifal as a work-it has its "baggage" and many detractors for both musical and philosophical reasons-suffice to say that I love this work and possess (I think) all the stereo era recordings (and some mono's too!)There is fundamentally no reason why Russian forces should not successfully perform Wagner-after all Western forces regularly perform the Russian repertoire, with great success.However, there have always been marked differences between what Western audiences expect to hear especially in opera, and what Russian audiences expect to hear-I refer of course to the famous "Slavic Wobble!, and brass which is tinny and "blarpy" at the high end and woolly and raspy at the low end! This has been heretofore acceptable as "authentic" in the Russian repertoire by Western audiences, but few if any would want to hear this in Wagner! What makes this recording possible now is that many Russian orchestras have been "westernised " in sound, none more so than the Kirov/Maryinsky-this will be viewed as "for good or for ill", dependent on your perspective! In tackling Parsifal as their first recorded Wagner, Gergiev and his forces come up against some of the greatest achievements in all of recording-Knappertsbusch, Karajan, Solti, Kubelik and Barenboim offer arguably their finest achievements overall in their respective recordings, with superb casts and recording quality never less than very good ranging to superb.How then does this one compare?-pretty well, if not quite on the same par. The recording is superb-Thank Heaven for "own label recordings"- but does not eclipse the others, and the playing is magnificent, if not always exactly idiomatic for this piece-but it works overall. Gergiev is mostly on the swift side as far as tempi are concerned, whipping up excitement whenever he can-but broadening out at times most appropriately in the the Grail Hall sequences.It is better shaped than Boulez's beakneck tempi fortunately, but for me it does often just miss the ethereal quality and supreme beauty of other recordings .
As far as I am aware, Bohm did not record Parsifal (at least commercially!), but the style is very reminiscent of his appraoach to Wagner in his 60's Ring and Tristan recordings. If you are looking for the "long line" approach of Kna or Karajan, then it's not present in this performance. This is merely an observation not a criticism as Gergiev's alternative approach is perfectly valid. The cast is mainly fine but variable-3 of the 4 main roles are cast internationally-Gary Lehman is all too reminiscent of Peter Hoffman in the the Levine/Bayreuth recording, and that is not good! Having commented on the Slavic Wobble, here we get the Western version! He's not terrible, but cannot match other performers in earlier recordings.Contrary to assertions by another reviewer, Parsifal is young in Act 1 and VERY much older in Act 3, so age is not the problem with Lehman's singing-it's inability to sustain a smooth legato-but I stress that this not disastrous. Urmana gives a suitably febrile performance as Kundry, more scary than seductive but very well sung-she really is a superb artist, and Pape (no surprise!) is an exemplary Gurnemanz surpassed perhaps only by Moll, especially on the Kubelik set.. The Russian Amfortas and Kingsor are a surprise-really fine-not perfect, but they make their parts really work, with the Amfortas occasionally a touch strained, but the Kingsor quite magnificent-one of the best sung and acted really nasty Klingsor's on disc!. The chorus , in truth DOES sound Russian but sings beautifully.Super bells in the Grail Hall scenes
Gergiev's is a performance definitely of a vital opera house drama-those who want more "spirituality" may be a tad disappointed. A couple of cavills-the offstage voices are TOO offstage, and at times are all but inaudible-this is atmospheric overkill-and the Flowermaiden scene really is too rushed-these are Interflora Express Flowermaidens, and are more intimitading than seductive at times -but again, it's not terrible and the solo maidens are very fine- and others may not share my view.
So, a noble failure?-no, far better than that but not a total success! If you are looking to buy only one Parsifal, then I would not advise this as a straightforward first choice. It has its great merits, and is very interesting to hear, but one of the earlier mentioned sets would be first choice for me-(Karajan by a short head, with Kubelik a close second)-but if you do go for the Gergiev, you will get a superb recording and enjoyable performance at a bargain price, so a qualified but strong recommendation. Parsifal can be the most daunting of Wagner's works for many, despite other effusive reviewers comments, and this very vital reading could well appeal to those who baulk at a more cerebral, drawn out one. For die-hard Wagner lovers such as me it is a "must have" and I commend it as such! I would award it 4 and a half stars if possible! Great price on amazon. Stewart Crowe