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Customer Review

19 of 25 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 31-38 of 38 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2013 21:29:27 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Ernest, what happened to your Janowski Ring review? As ever, Walter.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Mar 2013 12:04:55 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 25 Mar 2013 21:13:49 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2014 12:52:15 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jan 2014 13:56:15 GMT
Mole catcher required. Please apply to Amazon UK.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2014 19:11:16 GMT
Sine Nomine says:
Hi, Pereira,

I rarely visit these pages or post comments. And writing/posting reviews? Were I financially rewarded for my feeble efforts, then going a few rounds with intellectually challenged types - are you listening, Mole? - would be more than acceptable. That "Mole"! They seek him here, they seek him there...

Things are well with your good self, I trust? Incidentally, van Beinum's Decca/Philips Bruckner recordings - 5, 7, 8 and 9 - are available for pre-order - don't miss 'em! View my recent purchases.

Best wishes,
Jeremy.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2014 19:40:26 GMT
D. S. CROWE says:
Glad to hear you are alive and well, Jeremy. Happy New Year! As ever, Stewart

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2014 20:04:12 GMT
Sine Nomine says:
Good to hear from you, Stewart.

I'm intentionally keeping a "low profile"; I have enjoyed reading many of your - excellent! - reviews, but dare not comment - I feel it unfair, as it WILL attract "The Undesirables".

And I wish you a prosperous and productive New Year, Stewart. Keep those bally barbarians at bay!

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jan 2014 09:42:29 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Jan 2014 10:55:33 GMT
Hello Jeremy,

Happy New Year. So good to see you are still active on Amazon. Is it my imagination or are Jeremy postings becoming more difficult to find? A brilliant review of Barenboim's Parsifal incidentally. Parsifal is terra nova for me, and for some reason I hesitate to take the plunge, perhaps because I am immersed in The Ring at present [Bohm, Keilberth, Janowski and your justly favoured HVK.] I think I value the Janowski rather more than you. Such good recording, so spacious and clear and Janowski himself so direct and punchy. An amazing amount of value for money Wagner on offer at present. Thanks too for the tip about van B's Bruckner. I have 'retired' from reviewing for reasons you give; having, that is, no appetite for receiving unsolicited bile from unexpected quarters. But reassuring to know, despite your 'low profile' policy, you keep going Jeremy. Very best wishes. Stephen.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jan 2014 11:21:06 GMT
Sine Nomine says:
Greetings, Pereira,

Don't hesitate! Barenboim's recording is guaranteed to satisfy - it's the perfect introduction to Wagner's masterpiece. Then listen to Knappertsbusch's Philips recording of Parsifal... sublme. The Bohm Ring cycle is magnificent... Birgit Nilsson's Brunnhilde is perhaps the finest assumption of any Wagnrerian role in the history of recorded sound. Yes, Janowski... there are many Wagnerians for whom this recording is nothing other than excellent. The sound is spacious, but I find the sound slightly cavernous and Janowski's interpretation a little, erm, "loose". And There is Altmeyer's Brunnhilde, which I find lightweight. But this is my subjective response and I do believe that if it were not for the availability of the Decca budget/remastered - I own the earlier Philips release - Bohm Ring cycle then the Janowski cycle would have a stronger claim on the Wagner/Ring cycle neophyte. Karajan's Ring cycle has its faults - don't they all? - many have claimed that it's "Chamber Music", and disparagingly dismissed the performance as lacking in dramatic intensity (!) and visceral impact - damn those Solti admirers! Of course, the Solti/Culshaw ring is highly regarded - and rightly so. I've known it since a child, and you know what they say about familiarity... in truth it's in the top three - Karajan, Bohm, Solti/Furtwangler. Yes, I know that's four...

It's always a pleasure to communicate with genuine misic lovers, Pereira... Happy New Year.
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