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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far more than just a recording of Parsifal, 29 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Wagner: Parsifal (Audio CD)
Despite its duration, I always think that Parsifal is one of Wagner's easiest operas to get to grips with. The story is relatively simple, the psycho-drama is not too 'psycho' and the music is the composer's most refined and inspired. I can even manage to listen to an entire recording without a break (OK, I did go to the toilet and made a coffee after the first act). The first thing to say about this set is that it is easily the best recorded Parsifal ever and in all probability has the best sound of any Wagner recording. It is simply glorious and the orchestral playing is outstanding. This is an opera which places the listener in a divine world and it uses sound to achieve that. No other recording comes close to creating the effect on offer here - even Richard Wagner himself would probably be impressed. As for the cast? Well Pape is as usual outrageously good as ever. And I was very impressed with Lehman and Urmana. Lehman may not have the most youthful voice for a Parsifal (that's actually a strange comment when you consider that he's a young man and the role has often been recorded by pensioners!) but its still a very fine performance in every way. Will try to write a more in-depth review of the rest of the cast after listening again but there appear to be no weak links. In summary, this is a magnificent recording. The artistry is on a par with the finest performances of the '50s and far exceeds more recent recordings from Karajan et al, but the astonishing soundworld on offer here places this set in a league of its own.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Mariinsky Theatre’s music director Valery Gergiev began conducting Parsifal ..., 6 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Wagner: Parsifal (Audio CD)
The Mariinsky Theatre’s music director Valery Gergiev began conducting Parsifal in 1997, when the Kirov Opera (now the Mariinsky Theatre) staged a new, very mystical production partly documented in Tony Palmer’s film Parsifal: the Search for the Holy Grail.

Thanks to the Mariinsky Theatre’s Orchestra and Chorus contributions and to René Pape’s sublime Gurnemanz, the Mariinsky’s SACD Parsifal CD is a distinctive addition to the numerous recordings of the work released in the 60 years since Hans Knappertsbusch’s legendary 1951 Bayreuth interpretation. Taped at the Mariinsky Concert Hall during several days in June 2009, this recording is the company’s first Wagner CD.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Russian Parsifal? Who would have thought it!, 27 Sept. 2010
By 
D. S. CROWE "Music Lover" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner: Parsifal (Audio CD)
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
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good modern recording, 21 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Wagner: Parsifal (Audio CD)
For a modern recording of Parsifal i.e. anything post Karajan's 1981 DG effort, this now sits at the top of the tree.

On the other hand Kna's 1962 Bayreuth recording captures more of the essence of the work, and the sound quality isn't so bad.

What you will get here with Gergiev is a performance that is generally full of crackling energy, as another reviewer suggested. However there are times when the recording betrays a certain studio-boundness - not least when it some of the singers appear to be singing in a completely different place. Odd miking perhaps - a lack of nous on the recording engineers part I wonder? The same team are responsible for many of the LSO live releases, many of which are extremely poorly recorded. This isn't as bad as those, however you wonder if they could have done a slightly better job.

Overall worth purchasing, and better than Karajan which sacrifices too much of the detail of the work for an undeniably beautiful and powerful sound, or the Barenboim which is slightly non-descript for me, and certainly not in the same league as his Tristan.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars INERESTING PERFORMANCE LET DOWN BY A WOODEN PARSIFAL, 25 Oct. 2010
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Klingsor Tristan (Suffolk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner: Parsifal (Audio CD)
`Vocal Acting' is a phrase that is often liberally bandied about. The likes of Muzio and Lehmann, Callas and Gobbi are usually cited as supreme examples - in contrast to, say, a Caballe or a Bergonzi and the school of `walk down to the footlights and let it rip'. But what does Vocal Acting actually mean in practice?

This new Parsifal from Gergiev and his (mostly) Mariinsky forces can, I think, give us some guidance. There are some perfectly respectable singing performances here. The Russian elements of the cast offer some very musical and, by today's standards, quite adequate performances. Nikitin as Amfortas and Putilin as Klingsor would pass muster in most opera houses round the world. But - and it's a big `but' in this of all operas - their voices are really too anonymous and, more importantly, the emotions they convey are just too generalised to serve the composer's cause as he would have wanted. It is a fundamental of great acting that the actor should always exist absolutely in the moment, that each new phrase should not be premeditated but should erupt as the only thing that could be said at that particular point in the drama. Generalised "I'm truly anguished in this aria" or "I'm very malevolent here" simply doesn't cut it. Needless to say, this is even tougher in opera, where there is the music to think about as well as the words, than it is the theatre.

Which brings me to Rene Pape. Just listen to almost any part of his long Act 1 narration, which can potentially seem to go on and on and get plain boring. Every moment is alive with emotion and meaning. Or listen to the bloom that fills his voice in Act 3 when he realises that this is the boy and who killed the swan and that he is carrying THE spear. It's not just a matter of colouring the voice: that colour is a natural outcome of what the character actually feels at that precise moment in time. Following this performance with the score, even I was amazed at just how often the mature Wagner inserts little semi-quaver pauses in the middle of sentences, in the middle of phrases, even in the middle of words. This is surely Wagner, the highly experienced dramatist, giving his singers the clue to the natural hesitations as they find the right word, the little pauses as emotion imbues what they're saying. Nikitin uses them merely to take a breath. Lehman uses them simply because they're marked in the score. Pape uses them as part of a living, thinking character. If I was to be hypercritical, I would say that Pape ignores rather too many of these, but when he does, it at least always seem to grow out of that `spirit of the moment'.

Gurnemanz has always done rather well on recordings, considering what a garrulous old bore he can become in the wrong hands. Kipnis, Weber, Hotter, Frick, Moll (with Kubelik), are all quite wonderful performances. But Pape is right up there with them - probably, I would argue, at the very top of the pile. It almost goes without saying that the voice and the musicality are all there as well. This is a truly great performance.

Urmana's Kundry is not far behind with what is possibly the most psychologically complex character in all opera. This, too, is a performance full of life, of immediacy and of drama. In Act 2 she makes the transitions from ensnared witch to enchantress to seductress to vengeful fury bewitchingly. The scary downward leap of nearly 2 octaves when she recalls laughing at Christ has seldom been so hair-raising (and precise). The voice has a touch of steel at the top - a bit Nilsson-like - but also copes fully and richly with the lower mezzo music of much of Act 1 and of the Klingsor scene. It's just such a shame that she has so wooden and uninspiring a Parsifal to play off.

Sadly Gary Lehmann as Parsifal is a disaster. Unsteady, uninvolved, uninspiring and showing none of the growing maturity that centres round the moment of the kiss and produces a very different character in Act 3 to the rumbustious, uncaring youth of Act 1. For that you need a Vickers or a Vinay.

The chorus are fascinating. They sound very Russian. But surprisingly that works remarkably well. When we reach the trebles and sopranos in the heights of the temple in the first Grail Scene, I was reminded of the Rachmaninov of the Vespers or the Cathedral scene in Eisenstein's (and Prokofiev's) Ivan the Terrible. And, following on from that, the Titurel of Alexei Tanovitski is a real Russian bass, sounding like the celebrant's voice, echoing from the inner recesses of the temple. I think I always want Titurel to sound like that now.

And what of Gergiev? I begin to wonder if his hyperactive life-style doesn't compromise his performances these days. Does it take him time to shake off all the managerial and logistical trappings of his many international roles and fully engage with the music he is conducting? In my review of his live Bluebeard's Castle I opined that he only gets truly involved with the music about half an hour in - after which he provides a great performance. Much the same is true here. The Prelude is a touch fast, feels rather skated-over, doesn't seem to plumb any of the depths it should. And the same is true of much of the opening scene. The moment when the gears finally engage seems to be in the laments over the dead swan. After that, everything goes so much better. There is a magnificent Verwandlungmusik and, in the first Grail Scene, he at last justifies his slightly lighter, faster treatment of that opening theme. Klingsor's febrile and chromatic music has enormous thrust and the confrontation between Parsifal and Kundry is constantly alive to the changing moods. All of Act 3's explorations of startling chromatic harmonies (such a big advance even on Tristan) are used thrillingly at the service of the dramatic content. All in all, it is a performance closer to Kubelik in its balance of drama and reverence than to the extremes of a Knappertsbusch or a Boulez.

Not a great performance, then, cripplingly let down by an appallingly wooden Parsifal. But, like so many recordings, well worth hearing for its plus side - including a great Gurmenanz from Pape, some wonderful choral singing, a near perfect Titurel, an exciting Kundry from Urmana (though matched by the likes of Modl and Meier) and by Gergiev's often moving and exciting conducting.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This can be only the beginning of a great recording series!, 14 Oct. 2010
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This review is from: Wagner: Parsifal (Audio CD)
For the interested concert and opera visitor it has become a "well known secret" through the last years, that the Mariinsky under Gergiev does not only bring composers from Russia in an extraordinary quality from the stage to the listerner's ear, but also Beethoven, Mahler, Wagner, Berlioz, Verdi, ...
Unfortunately this fact is totally under-represented in recordings.
Having myself heard and seen a concert and a staged performance of "Parsifal" conducted by Gergiev, this recording became an absolut and long awaited MUST.
If there is just a 0.000001 minus from the five star rating, then only because of the rather a little bit studio like atmosphere (which on the other hand gives full concentration to the music). Please do remember: Tony Palmer has brought "Parsifal" as staged performance for the Mariinsky. Wouldn't it be time (additionally to this SACD-set) to publish this historic document finally on Blu-ray?
And - now for several years the Mariinsky has a staged Wagner Ring cycle in the "tour luggage".
Let us be curious how the Mariinsky recording catalogue is going to grow!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful interpretation of Wagner's swansong., 17 Oct. 2013
By 
P. Donovan "cultural jackdaw" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner: Parsifal (MP3 Download)
This is a forceful appraisal of Wagner's final masterpiece with strong performances throughout. Parsifal is a difficult work to appraise as it is easy to compare it to 'The Ring' but is a gentler and more reflective work and this recording brings out those qualities. There are plenty of Parsifal recordings on the market but this one should be explored for its depth and musicality. (You don't have to be German to perform Wagner!)
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