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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A leaner "Parsifal" with excellent principal singers, 4 July 2010
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner : Parsifal [1981] (Audio CD)
I was pleased to see this 1982 recording reissued more cheaply, as I have never been interested in the highly controversial film version by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg for which this is the soundtrack, nor am I especially interested in opera on DVD in general, as I prefer either to be present at a live performance or to use my own mind's eye to supply the visuals. I am, however, very interested in the cast and conductor assembled here to make a recording to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Wagner's death, as it includes some very fine singers.

It is true that the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo cannot rival the Berlin Philharmonic and other great orchestras which have recorded this masterpiece with Karajan, Kubelik, Knappertsbusch and Krauss; they lack the sumptuousness, depth and virtuosity to give the orchestral passages the kind of sheen and impact a superior band imparts, but they are very well directed by Jordan and are by no means negligible in their dedication and professionalism. Nor is the Prague Philharmonic Choir to be sniffed at; unlikely though it seems, they sing with idiomatic conviction; the Knabenchor singing from the dome sounds pure, ethereal and very well tuned. I have read complaints about muddy, distant sound; this is early digital and I don't think it has been remastered, but apart from some very faint hiss, it sounds very good to me.

Jordan has a superb sense of pacing and shape; no undue lingering but nor is there any unseemly haste and the great orchestral set pieces such as the end of Act 1, the Transformation and Good Friday music all make their mark without quite reaching the apotheosis such as Karajan achieves in his recording a couple of years earlier.

The biggest weaknesses here are vocal, beginning with the rather exterior and unsubtle Amfortas of Wolfgang Schöne; his vibrato is too broad and both his tone and expression ordinary compared with two such different, but equally successful interpreters as José van Dam and George London. In fact a case could be made for every singer here being surpassed by another elsewhere, but as a team they make up an excellent ensemble. My main motive in wanting to acquire this set was to hear a favourite singer in Robert Lloyd singing one of the great Wagnerian bass rôles. I grew up listening to Lloyd as the resident principal bass at Covent Garden and have never understood those who do not respond to his rich, resonant sound, or call it "nasal". He is relatively young here, but sings with great authority, his oiled-teak bass rolling out magnificently. He is perhaps to be compared only with Kurt Moll for sheer beauty and incisiveness of voice, although he does not use the text with quite the same subtlety. Reiner Goldberg has just the right bright, boyish tenor sound and acts well with his voice; he is easier on the ear than either Hofmann or Windgassen even if he lacks the necessary heft at climactic points - whereas the great Ramon Vinay for Krauss sounds too mature and hefty. Yvonne Minton makes a characterful, vibrant Kundry; her mezzo is intrinsically beautiful and her "Ich sah das Kind" is especially tender and poignant, though perhaps her younger self is even better in the Kubelik set. Aage Haugland's febrile bass with its quick vibrato is very apt to portray the hyper-reactive Klingsor, even if he cannot rival Hermann Uhde in this rôle.

The supporting cast and minor rôles are more than adequate, although again, other recordings variously feature better. Particularly good are the Knights, Paul Frey and Gilles Cachemaille, both at the outset of distinguished careers - and bass-baritone Cachemaille as a bass here sounds more impressive to me than as the baritone he was to become.

In sum, a "Parsifal" which is more than the sum of its parts. I certainly would not place it above my own favourites in Karajan and Kubelik and others will cling to their Knappertsbusch or Krauss recordings, but this one still does Wagner justice and is particularly recommendable for those who are fans of the singers in question and like a fleeter, leaner "Parsifal".
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Wagner : Parsifal [1981]
Wagner : Parsifal [1981] by Richard Wagner (Audio CD - 2009)
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