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6 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bitter and irritating disappointment-no competition!, 27 Mar. 2012
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This review is from: Parsifal (Audio CD)
I continue to be perplexed at the level of enthusiasm expressed in certain quarters for the interpretative stance of Marek Janowski in Wagner. I should add that I have found him to be a sympathetic interpreter of Richard Strauss, where his accompaniments of Soile Isokoski were inspired,his recording of the Rosenkavalier film score is fun and he gave us a very creditable D'Albert's Tiefland from Munich some years back among other achievements- so I am not blind to his accomplishments in general.
The first 2 segments of the proposed Pentatone cycle were characterised by brisk tempi and shapeless phrasing, glossing over so many of the emotional and dramatic high points that the works became rather sterile. There were also some pretty poor vocal performances, but those sets were -and are at the point of writing-the only SACD recordings available, and as I am aware that there are audiophiles a-plenty for whom sonic excellence overrides any artistic considerations, those sets no doubt had a wide constituency.
Furthermore, there are no absolute "Knockout" recordings of Hollander or Meistersinger to recommend as an alternative, though I would suggest that they all have fewer caveats than the Janowski versions!
With Parsifal, this is not the case as there is a phalanx of absolutely exalted recordings from the likes of Kubelik, Karajan, Solti, Barenboim (underrated!) and many more-and there are already 2 highly creditable SACD recordings from Gergiev and van Zweden (both reviewed by me) available making the competition stiff.
The casting in this set is overall rather good. I have never cared for Selig's tremulous bass-his Gurnemanz inflicted upon us by Thielemann in his recording made that particular set unlistenable as far as I am concerned.
He IS better here-but the wobble is still there and keeps one in cringe mode waiting for the loss of tone and line, but he emotes well and is certainly more secure than Hotter for Knappertsbusch. I was also concerned about Michelle de Young-her exaggerated wobble on many recent recordings has been difficult to accept, but she too is better than I had hoped-still tremulous, especially when under pressure but tolerable as a rather mature sounding Kundry (well, she is hundreds of years old). The rest of the cast, excepting Parsifal, is really rather good without being great, but I would have to say, enjoyable enough. Evgeny Nikitin repeats the Amfortas he gave us for Gergiev, dramatically powerful but rough-edged vocally, not in the same league as van Dam or London, and Schulte is a more cheerful Klingsor than usual-which is texturally accurate as the learned eassay in the booklet points out
The Chorus of Grail Knights and Flower Maidens are fine enough too, though the high-speed Flower Maidens are a bit shrill, and there is no solo Maiden to compare with Popp, Hendricks or Gundula Janowitz-which leaves Parsifal, Christian Elsner. He is actually superb, with a dark baritonal timbre and ringing top notes. Furthermore, he interprets well and is a real find. I would go so far as to say that had the conducting been a touch more sympathetic, his performance alone would be the worth the expensive cost of the set. More please!
The orchestra plays well, though they cannot match the searing intense string tones of the Berlin, Vienna and Bayreuth orchestras, not forgetting the astonishing BRSO in the Kubelik.
The conducting is ludicrous.The prelude opens beautifully, with wonderfully expressive strings, at a swift but not excessive tempo, but things start to deteriorate as soon as we reach the " Dresden Amen" as he pushes the tempo on in a " Come on, we've got a lot to get through!" manner which then pervades the whole performance. Might I suggest that a dip into the first transition scene in Scene 2 Act One is tried as this will give an an accurate impression of the performance style-but be careful not to miss it!
The speed and shapelessness of Janowski's conducting robs this intense passage of any interest whatsoever-and leads into a Grail Scene in which the Knights are at "double time" and must have struggled not to drop Titurel!
(Fantastic bells though-audiophiles please note)
He makes nonsense of this entire scene, and other what should be glorious passages throughout emerge as mundane at best. Not only was I not moved at any point, I was outright irritated by the whole performance, not least because its components are excellent and yet the end result dire.
Obviously it's not ALL terrible-any well played and sung Parsifal is BOUND to have some beautiful elements, but they are utterly negated by the reading of the conductor. I am actually annoyed by the whole experience-it sounds as if Janowski just does not grasp the work, or doesn't like it if he does!
I have alluded to the fact that his conductor has his admirers in Wagner, and I have experienced their wrath already when criticising his appraoach, but they are going to have a hard time defending this one!
If you think you'd like a really rather well sung Parsifal, with in fact some excellent vocal contributions, but interpreted with no feeling for the drama, passages rushed through- and a total lack of spirituality, dramatic intensity and command of the idiom- but very well recorded-then this might be for you.
If you are looking for a great Parsifal-Kubelik, Karajan, Solti, Knappertsbusch, and Barenboim, even -dare I say it-Boulez will provide a richer experience than this one, in excellent sound-and for less money. If SACD is a must, then I commend the van Zweden as being in beautiful sound and you may not feel that Klaus Florian Vogt's otherwise excellent Parsifal is too light of voice as I do.
Unusually for me, I announce my decision not to pursue this Pentatone Edition further despite their voucher system promising the last release at half price..
I will leave others to endure the remaining upcoming sets. 3 Stars for singing, 4 stars for recording, 2 stars for presentation ( album packaging looks great but falls to bits), 1 star (grudgingly) for conducting. 2.5 Stars overall. Stewart Crowe.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Mar 2012 12:31:44 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
Ah! The phantom negative note troller strikes again! Why not post a comment, or even a review, indicating why you disagree with my review, or why it was not helpful? In order to possibly clarify the position further, the Russian Amfortas is solid but does not compare with the likes of van Dam or London, Schulte has the same fragility of tone as Nimsgern as Klingsor, causing one to worry that he might break down (he doesn't), and the Flower Maidens are a bit shrill. Is there anything more I can add to assist?. I nominate van Zweden as the SACD choice over Gergiev, because this recommendation is aimed at those for whom sound quality is paramount, and it is definitely better recorded than the Gergiev (though I marginally prefer the Gergiev as a performance). Hope this all helps. Looking forward to hearing from someone with something to say, As Ever, Stewart Crowe (reviewer).

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Mar 2012 12:33:21 BDT
Ralph Moore says:
Your cowardly troll has nothing to offer, of course, especially in comparison with your own insight, experience and judgement. Keep writing superb reviews and ignore the flea-bites.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Mar 2012 17:14:39 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
Many thanks Ralph. I was very harsh with the stars to emphasise that whatever merits this set has-and it IS Parsifal so Wagner's inherent genius does shine through intermittently-are so outweighed by its deficiencies that no-one other than a slavish Janowskiite (can there be such a creature?) should consider it in preference to any of the exalted sets I mentioned-and I could have added Goodall and even Armin Jordan to that list. I cannot imagine anyone thinking otherwise, but.....?
Best Regards As Ever, S!

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Apr 2012 23:30:27 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Apr 2012 23:33:14 BDT
I would disagree on your assessment of no "knockout" competition for HOLLANDER or MEISTERSINGER. As to the former, the 1955 Bayreuth with Hermann Uhde in the title role hasn't been equalled, let alone surpassed, and Kubelik's MEISTERSINGER is without peer. As to PARSIFAL, this and all others (except Bodanzky) do not even approach the understanding of any under the baton (1951 - 64) of Hans Knappertsbusch.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Apr 2012 09:51:13 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
I totally agree with you about the 1955 Hollander in terms of performance, but sonically, even in the Pristine remastering finally in stereo on CD from the Decca Master Tapes it can only really be said to be remarkable for its age, and I was suggesting that there was no obvious Hollander in modern sound as a first choice. Uhde IS superb, as is he is as Gunther in the 55 Ring, though he's even better in 53 Mono recording. As for Meistersinger, I have reservations-it's either Kubelik or Karajan for me. I cannot abide Konya's glottal "sobbing" on virtually every phrase, and Kubelik's tempi are not always convincing (to me)-while on the other hand Janowitz and Thomas Stewart are without comparison. The Karajan is in better sound, but Adam is a dull old Sachs and I cannot abide Evans mummimg parody of a Beckmesser, so I'm always torn between the 2. As I write, I'm awaiting the post delivering the 1968 Bohm Bayreuth recording on Orfeo with Kmentt, a favourite, as Walther. I'm also awaiting the 1964 Knappertsbusch on Orfeo. I think you under value Kublelik and others in Parsifal, for while I love Kna's reading, Hotter is unlistenable as far as I am concerned.
We do agree that there is not much to cheer about in THIS recording! I'm sorry I didn't make my suggestions more clear, and thank you for your comments. Very Best Regards, Stewart.

Posted on 15 Jun 2012 19:28:00 BDT
Setusfree says:
So you don't like Janowski's Parsifal. Surely he shines in comparison to Herbert Kegel (Leipzig circa 1985), or perhaps they are on a par?

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jun 2012 10:04:38 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
That's scarcely the point. It may well be not as bad as the Kegel, but that it is not any kind of recommendation. There are truly great recordings available, and as is this not one of them, I cannot recommend it simply as a better choice than say the Kegel or the Armin Jordan, except in terms of recorded sound.SC

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jun 2012 15:25:09 BDT
Last edited by the author on 16 Jun 2012 15:25:48 BDT
Ralph Moore says:
Now I really like the Jordan "Parsifal", Stewart:
Wagner : Parsifal [1981]
Are you sure you dislike it that much?

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jun 2012 16:25:17 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
No, it's not terrible, though orchestrally it's not the best, Goldberg as ever (except in Salome) sings like an accountant-though Robert Lloyd is magnificent. Maybe you're right, it's a bit unfair-the Jordan IS better than Janowski. I was in truth struggling to think of a Parsifal I like less than this one-I even prefer Boulez, though the Thielemann is borderline because Selig is very poor, and T whips through the coda as if trying to make sure the audience get out in time for the last bus! Thanks for the slap on the wrist-Jordan was an underrated conductor. As ever, S!

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jun 2012 17:02:56 BDT
Ralph Moore says:
Stewart, on re-reading my review and confessing that I have not listened to it for quite a while (note to self), I am relieved that I acknowledge in my review the relative inferiority of the orchestral playing and don't go overboard on it, despite its merits. It's probably the best of the more recent recordings.

Jordan is good in this:
Chausson : Poeme De L'Amour Et De La Mer; Chanson Perpetuelle; Melodies - Apex
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D. S. CROWE
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Location: UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 290