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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect Parsifal..., 26 May 2012
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This review is from: Parsifal (Audio CD)
Wagner, surrounded by silks, satins and exotic perfumes, relieved of all financial debt by King Ludwig - underwritten by the state of Bavaria - composed his Weltabschiedswerk, as he called it, in an environment conducive to the creation of Parsifal, his final masterpiece. Wagner's, ermm, peculiar sensibilities demanded such extravagance and dare one say subservience. Parsifal received its first performance at the Bayreuth Festival Theatre on the 26th July 1882 with Hermann Levi conducting. Levi, the son of a rabbi, was greatly admired by Wagner - however, his musical ability was not in question, but his race and religion were! Wagner protested long and loud - had Ludwig - whose adoration and devotion were absolute - failed to understand the anti-Semitic message of Parsifal? Perhaps King Ludwig's dalliance with Austrian Jewish actor, Josef Kainz, accounted for his intransigence? Such was Wagner's fury over the conductor's appointment that he subjected Levi to merciless, offensive attacks. Ultimately, sanity prevailed, Levi survived the onslaught and Wagner acquiesced.

Parsifal, a psychologically complex drama, is open to myriad interpretations. Wagner bends Christianity to his creative will and mythologizes it in his own image - Parsifal is Wagner's final testament, in which he condensed and refined all of his theories and views - ostensibly to a bare minimum - fully loaded and rich in symbolism. Parsifal is a work which some Wagnerians find unpalatable due to Wagner "expounding extremist views" through the medium of music drama, but Wagner was a man of paradox and contradiction, if nothing else! Parsifal is, effectively, a portrait of the artist - warts and all!

Daniel Barenboim conducts a staggeringly beautiful - Pre-Raphaelite-like - and intensely dramatic account of Parsifal, rich in vibrant orchestral colour and drenched in Wagnerian mysticism. The full spectrum of emotions, from religious belief/reverence to flagrant sensuality/sexuality, is conveyed by Barenboim with great attention to detail - his palette positively glows with primary colours. Barenboim is blessed by having both the magnificent Berlin Philharmonic and a superb cast, not to mention the excellent chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin who sing with great control, power and fervency.

Siegfried Jerusalem thoroughly convinces in the title role - from innocence and simplicity to spiritual enlightenment and compassion, Jerusalem is completely immersed in the character. By the third Act the transformation from boy to man is palpable - he is older and wiser. Matthias Holle's Gurnemanz is bursting with wisdom and noble bearing, with gravitas in abundance and his Hotter-like tone providing rich insights. Jose van Dam gives a performance which eclipses his earlier Amfortas for Karajan - that wound and the shame it brings are a heavy burdon which van Dam expresses with considerably more depth, feeling and commitment this time. Gunter von Kannen's Klingsor is splendidly evil, exuding malice and menace, yet one feels for this Klingsor; rejected and ostracized, von Kannen reveals the inner torment and turmoil/dichotomy - this wicked garden and its Flower Maidens are more tempting than most and one understands Klingsor's desire to ensnare and destroy the knights of the Grail all the more. Waltraud Meier's Kundry is second to none; she has the measure of the savage, insane creature of the first Act and excels as the would be seductress in Act 2 where Parsifal resists Kundry's advances and very many charms. John Tomlinson's Titurel is in rude health - perhaps a tad too healthy given the decrepit character's moribund state? Nonetheless, a fine performance, and that goes for all concerned.

Daniel Barenboim joins the great pantheon of Parsifal conductors - his is the sixth Parsifal to be added to my collection, but it vies for first place along with the recordings of Karajan and Knappertsbusch. The excellent recording has a very wide dynamic range and is incredibly detailed with remarkable clarity, breadth and depth. All things considered, Barenboim's Parsifal is as close to perfection, in my opinion, as a studio recording can be and it is of such high artistic merit - in every sense - that it reminded me of just why the musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic favoured Barenboim as Herbert von Karajan's successor. The orchestra voted for Claudio Abbado - as gifted as he is - for reasons other than musicianship. Such is the world of politics behind the closed doors of power!

The set's documentation includes a synopsis, but is sans libretto/translation. Of course, this will be of little concern should the potential purchaser happen to understand the German language or have other sets which include translations of the text. Text issues aside, the set is magnificent - pure, unalloyed pleasure.
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Showing 1-10 of 38 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 9 Nov 2012 14:51:11 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
2 small points-one emphasising how absolutely spot on your review is, the other a small amendment. This was originally set up to be an Erato recording, but when Warner took them over, they "confiscated" Barenboim and recast the recordings as Teldec. Whereas they recorded the Bruckner symphonies in a very dry acoustic of the Philharmonie, they had the good sense to record this in the Jesus Christus Kirche in Dahlem, former venue for so many great Karajan recordings and the sonic results are still stunning-great bells too. I bought it on the day of its first release and still have in its original packaging. My only niggle is that he just rushes the opening of the Good Friday Music, but otherwise this a triumph. This is the more surprising as less than 2 years earlier he stood in for an indisposed Levine at Bayreuth and conducted the slowest Parsifal ever, so that even the Bavarians (who LOVE it sslllowww) said that it nearly ceased to be music! On the subject of the successor to Karajan, the BPO actually voted for KLEIBER-but he turned them down flat! Abbado was actually runner up! Popular myth has it that Maazel was so put out that he did not conduct them again for over 10 years. He maintains that the reason was that it was because of their treatment of Karajan, and he wouldn't work with them again until several members-including the arch villain Tharichen, the percussionist who led the coup-had retired. Of course, HvK had nominated Levine, but that fact alone kaiboshed HIS chances. DB never really seems to have been in the running, despite his expectations. As ever, S.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Nov 2012 18:29:31 GMT
A fascinating post, as ever, Stewart.

Absolutely! The recording IS a triumph. Yes, the bells in Acts 1 and 3 have the perfect sonority and The Grail scenes are deeply moving. The Good Friday Music is sublime - few other recordings rise to such heights of spiritual exaltation. That comment from the Bavarians was a compliment - surely Wagner's Parsifal is beyond music...

I am familiar with the Kleiber story - it's all in Richard Osborne's Karajan biography - but I have it on good authority that the musicians were inclined to favour Barenboim. We have - in the past - discussed the awful treatment Karajan received at the hands of certain members of his orchestra and I have nothing but admiration for Maazel - I do not doubt his word. Abbado was most definately "runner up"! And second best is never good enough for an orchestra of the BPO's calibre. Karajan was irreplaceable - fact. It's all over - vorbei - the world has changed.

Incidentally, after reading your excellent review, I ordered that Welser-Most Bruckner 7 and it's exactly as you described! Best wishes.

Posted on 12 Feb 2013 18:25:44 GMT
Roro says:
What a clever, balanced and well-written review ! Thanks !

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Feb 2013 22:38:00 GMT
Thank you for the kind words, Roro. Enjoy the recording and let us know what you think of Barenboim's Parsifal.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Feb 2013 13:37:56 GMT
Last edited by the author on 19 Feb 2013 17:12:28 GMT
Roro says:
I own a copy of the set, and I definitely agree with you : both the conducting and the cast are outstanding.
I also like Levine's Parsifal, and I love Knappertsbusch's and Karajan's. But for this opera, my personal favorite remains Sinopoli (the Unitel dvd), for its meditative depth. But I'm aware of the fact that that's a highly personal preference !
Coming back to Barenboim, I think his Scala Tristan is his best wagnerian achievement so far. So overwhelmingly beautiful !

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Feb 2013 16:06:44 GMT
It's good to hear from you, Roro.

I am not familiar with the Levine recording - many consider Levine's slow tempi unacceptable, but I expect that I'll prefer Levine's approach to the score over, say, Boulez's.... My favourite DVD Parsifal is Horst Stein's deeply moving Bayreuth DG recording with Jerusalem, once more, the eponymous hero. I have yet to hear Sinopoli's recording. Goodall's EMI recording - a recent purchase - is magnificent and very Knappertsbuschian! I also own the Solti, Boulez, Karajan and Knappertsbusch sets, but I think Goodall could well be the new "front runner" in my "pack" of seven recordings... I have Barenboim's Bayreuth Tristan DG DVD and it is very much to my taste. However, Johanna Meier is no match when it comes to Margaret Price's radiant performance for Kleiber or indeed Price's polar opposite, Birgit Nilsson, in the Bohm DG Tristan. Nilsson is, as ever, imperious and peerless! I'm considering the Solti/Decca Tristan... Enjoy the music; it is indeed overwhelmingly beautiful.

Best wishes.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Feb 2013 16:16:37 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Jeremy, as a committed Levine fan, avoid the Parsifal like the plague- both Bayreuth and Met. Trust me on this one! as ever, Stewart.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Feb 2013 17:26:48 GMT
Thanks for the input, Stewart. I've just been viewing the Amazon Levine/Parsifal reviews and Norman's Kundry is a "major flaw" and she is "miscast" - so no surprises there then! As a young man, back in '88 - approx - I once sampled Solti's Decca Lohengrin and concluded pretty swiftly that Norman was no Elsa! The set, of course, received "rave reviews", as I recall! Her Sieglinde for Janowski is awful...

I have the final disc of Janowski's Gotterdammerung to contend with and my review will be complete. Even considering the drawback of Eva Marton's, ermm, wobbly Brunnhilde, I'd not hesitate in recommending Haitink's much underrated Ring cycle over the Janowski set. To say that Altmeyer is overparted would be an understatement and Haitink conveys a deeper understanding of the score and a firmer grasp of the overall structure...

At the moment I'm finding it difficult to tear myself away from Thielemann's marvellous Dresden Staatskapelle Bruckner Eight - thanks for the review, Stewart. Best wishes.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Feb 2013 18:30:52 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
There are 2 Parsifals of real note that I think you should explore in due course- the Kubelik is stunning, recording, playing and performance- as good as DB if not better. Then there is the live Goodall from the ROH in remarkably good stereo and with Vickers as Parsifal. Of course there are any other fine recordings especially in mono, but these 2 are de rigeur. That B8 IS stunning and I'm so glad you love it. Back to the Kubelik- if you think the BRSO are superb for Haitink, just wait till you here them in Parsifal.It even has Lucia Popp as first flower maiden and Moll is even better than for HvK. best Regards as Ever, S

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Feb 2013 13:58:58 GMT
Mole says:
When you two pompous pigs get going in your mutual appreciation society I always feel like vomiting. You probably call yourselves "The Connoisseurs Club" and you both write as if only you know what is good. Doesn't that make you musical fascists rather than fine human beings?
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