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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars

VINE VOICEon 10 June 2009
The two performances of Parsifal that have stuck most conspicuously in my memory over the years happened within just a few months of each other. Deeply memorable as they both were, it would be hard to imagine two more disparate performances.

The first was in August, 1970, at the Bayreuth Festival, conducted by Pierre Boulez. This was the famous Wieland Wagner production from 1951, by then getting a little ossified 5 years after his death, but still the highly moving benchmark of the New Bayreuth style. Boulez' conducting, too, was settled in after some 5 years but was, in its way, just as revolutionary - far brisker tempi than anything heard in those hallowed halls for many a year, clarified textures even in the context of the Bayreuth `sound' and all Boulez' familiar acuity in elucidating shape and structure. A most memorable account of the work, available on disc for some years now.

The second memorable performance happened the following May at Covent Garden and was conducted by Reginald Goodall. It, too, is now available on disc, thanks to the Royal Opera House Heritage Series. In stark contrast to Boulez (running time 3hrs 39mins), Goodall's has to be the slowest Parsifal on record at 4hrs 43mins (compared to other famous slow-coaches - Knappertsbusch gloriously at Bayreuth in 1951 at 4hrs 32mins and Levine interminably at Bayreuth in 1985 at 4hrs 38mins). Goodall, of course, was often in the famous subterranean pit at Bayreuth during Kna's Parsifal performances in the 50's and patently learned much from the older man's long commitment to and intimacy with the score. But, where Kna used his slow speeds to unleash great power in the climaxes and to reveal greater detail, Goodall uses his tempi in the service of the long paragraph and the overriding structure and shape of each Act. Deathridge in his accompanying notes accuses Goodall's Act 1 of being `surely much too long' and `constantly verging on incoherence'. I would argue precisely the opposite - that, despite occasional longeurs (e.g. the recessional after the Grail Ceremony, but that's Wagner's fault as much as Goodall's), the broad tempi in this performance allow the scale of the musical argument to speak clearly and truly - in Act 1 through the accumulation of Kundry, Amfortas, Grail, Klingsor and Parsifal motifs in the first scene to the huge angst-ridden climax of the Transformation (with hohepunkt perfectly in place) and then to the intense quietude as the Grail is revealed. Slow speeds actually and surprisingly benefit much of the Flower Maiden scene, especially the `Komm, komm' passage which breathes a heady Paris-version Venusberg languor. The ever-evolving dialogue between Parsifal and Kundry has seldom been better argued. And, while it has to be admitted that the harmonically amazing Prelude to the Third Act does almost grind to a complete halt, the rest of the act carries the full weight of the cloud hanging over the Grail domain as well as the stature of Parsifal's hard-won maturity in the wonderful dramatic tension and cohesion that builds right through to the huge impact of the Transformation Music and on to `Nur eine Waffe taugt' and the final choruses.

I believe that Jon Vickers once claimed that this series of performances was the best thing he ever did on stage. Certainly, he is a magnificent Parsifal here. Impetuous and unruly in Act 1, there is still real pathos in his memories of Herzeleide. And just listen to the different colourings he brings to the repeated `Das weiss ich nicht' answers to Gurnemanz' questions. In Act 2, he really comes into his own. This is a towering performance with weight of tone and emotional anguish ideally combined in `Amfortas - Die Wunde' and real understanding of this tricky part brought to the growing realisation of his past errors and future vocation in the interplay with Kundry. Act 3 is a model of what a great dramatically satisfying sing this can be in the right hands: matured by years of wandering and hardship, this is a man who has totally come to understand himself and his mission, made clear in glorious singing through his quiet arrival, his Coronation, the Good Friday Music right through to a searingly moving long diminuendo as he asks for the Grail to be unveiled.

While not quite in that same exalted class, the rest of the cast are still a formidable team, most of them well versed in Goodall's intentions through much work in his famous attic room (known to all as `Valhalla') at the top of the Royal Opera House. Norman Bailey is among the very best Amfortas's, encompassing the anguish and guilt of the part as one would expect, but also giving full power and beauty of tone to the sometimes taxingly high tessitura of the part. Amy Shuard was/is an underrated singer, a real stalwart of Wagner performances at the Opera House in those days, and Kundry was a part that suited her better than Brunnhilde: occasionally a touch squally, she nevertheless had the range for the mezzo Act 1 and the dramatic soprano Act 2 where she more than rises to the challenge of Vickers' intensity. McIntyre had been the Klingsor in my Bayreuth Parsifal the previous summer and he repeats the role here. It was the part that suited him best in this opera (at various times he also sang both Amfortas and Gurnemanz, the latter in Goodall's now less desirable Welsh Opera recording) and makes a convincing villain whether at Boulez' faster tempi or Goodall's frighteningly (for the singer) slower ones. The weak link in this perfomance was, perhaps, Louis Hendricx as Gurnemanz. The part should have been sung by Gottlob Frick - and was at the first performance in the run - but ill-health plagued the whole series. Hendricx, standing in at short notice for this one performance, was obviously not used to Goodall's slow tempi nor to this production. He sings well enough, but can be a bit wooden and pedestrian, a fatal flaw in a Gurnemanz, especially in Act 1 where he has to carry the weight of so much long narration.

Nevertheless, this is a welcome reminder of a great and memorable night in Covent Garden's history. The sound on these discs is adequate but no more. Don't let that deter you from an intense and moving performance, though.
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on 30 July 2014
thank you!
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on 7 April 2011
In a few words: I am in favour of slow tempi in Parsifal. Granted, if one can pull them off as Goodall indeed can. Shame the orchestra was not at his best that night and shame also for Amy Shuard, a singer who, in my opinion, has neither a particularly pleasant voice nor such interpretative qualities to justify her presence here.
However, the intensity of some moments - remarkably, the adoration of the spear in act 3 - justifies the purchase of this set. I own possibly all the Parsifals available but I often go back to this one as Goodall masters this score as very few do.
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on 5 February 2010
This famous, previously-unreleased recording of Parsifal has very strong elements. Reginald Goodall has the measure of the work, a clear idea as to what the work is about. His speeds are very "measured" - "slow" would imply tedious - but they are sustained well. The Parsifal is the great Vickers, in fine voice and certainly committed, as always with this giant of the Wagner repertoire. Norman Bailey sings well, as does Donald MacIntyre, both well worth hearing. The orchestra is, frankly, scratchy at times, strings especially, but the brass and wind elevate their contribution. Goodall cannot have been easy to keep together with for a strings section live in the pit. Louis Hendrikx is tremulous at times and lacking in tone. He sings musically, but is not in the front rank. Amy Shuard is acceptable, but not great to listen to, I felt.
The chorus part company with Goodall in Act 3, clearly wanting to get a move on, but Goodall has established a rock-like pace and his speed should have prevailed. The rhythm is lost several times in the chorus in Act 3 Scene 2, which is a pity.
The recorded sound is reasonable, but certainly not good for the date, 1971. Compare it with Solti's sound on Decca to see what I mean.
The booklet is very fine.
Most buyers, like me, will buy this set for Vickers and Goodall, I suspect, but most will also want another recording as well.
I have Solti, Karajan, Knappertsbusch (62), Boulez, Levine (Bayreuth) and the Met, Levine dvd. I am hugely lucky in this, as every one of these has treasures and it makes me listen to this great work more frequently as a result.
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VINE VOICEon 13 October 2008
I suspect that if a performance or an artist is universally liked and admired, then something must be lacking. This Parsifal will undoubtedly divide opinion, but that is in some ways its glory. Cards on the table - for me it's a magnificent performance which vividly communicates the work's physical and mystical qualities.

The sound quality is excellent; rich, full-bodied and detailed, very much a Royal Opera House acoustic, capturing the voices superbly, inevitably including the occasional discrete murmur from the prompter which I didn't find particularly distracting.

As for the singers, least satisfactory is Louis Henrikx as Gurnemanz, unfortunately the lynchpin of the first and third acts. Gottlob Frick sang the first night, followed by Franz Crass and Peter Meven. Presumably Hendrikx sang the last two. Perhaps he didn't have the luxury of sufficient rehearsal time with Goodall, whose generally broad tempi seem to take the Belgian bass well out of his comfort zone. The voice lacks both richness and a true centre, but does have a vibrato that I find neither noble nor endearing. Norman Bailey's is an outstanding Amfortas, his anguish and guilt intensely expressed but always within the framework of the music, Michael Langdon voices an already other-worldly Titurel most beautifully and Donald Macintyre is an extraordinary Klingsor. No ranting opera villain, he finds an uncanny balance of malevolence, bitterness and, through the sheer beauty of his singing, a certain vulnerability.

Amy Shuard was the possessor of a magnificent voice which she didn't always deploy to its best effect, but here under Goodall'guidance she is an outstanding and subtle Kundry, not only thrilling but surprisingly voluptuous. The London-born soprano had a uniquely dark and powerful lower register which, importantly, enables her to truly sing the role throughout its range.

Rightly crowning these marvellous portrayals is Jon Vickers, a peerless Parsifal caught here in his prime. He could have dominated any performance in which he appeared simply by the sheer power he could muster but, ever the complete artist, does so much more. With his searching intellect, an unrivalled palette of vocal colours and heroic tone Vickers puts his heart and soul into this towering, searing performance.

The most controversial aspect is, of course, Reginald Goodall. In the accompanying booklet James Deathridge describes Act 1 as being slow to the point of incoherence. I can understand where he's coming from, but I don't agree. Here and in the final act I find that I relish the chance to savour the subtly shifting harmonies of Wagner's orchestration and the opportunities offered for expressive singing. The slow tempo of the Klingsor - Kundry scene which opens Act 2 does rob the music of its lacerating cut and thrust; Goodall's approach works much better from the Flower Maidens' siren song led by the young Kiri te Kanawa as he leads inexorably to the crux of the drama, Kundry's kiss. As Ernest Newman said, "There is evil, the root of the whole world's evil, in the kiss..." Vickers and Shuard's intensity in this moment is quite something, and they maintain that tension through to the end of the act.

It remains only to say that the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House plays out of its socks for Goodall and has a great night, and that, while the conductor's approach won't suit everyone, there's no doubt that in this performance Goodall and his singers take us to the heart of Parsifal.
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on 24 December 2013
This is perhaps the finest recording of Parsifal. The main objection to it will lie in Goodall's very slow tempi. Yes, for the first half of Act 1 I did get irritated by the slow tempi. But from the time Jon Vickers appears as Parsifal, the performance starts to take wing, and I learnt to relax and accept the slow tempi, since the pulse never wavers. Goodall and Vickers dig deeper into Parsifal than any other conductor and Parsifal. They inspire one another to great heights. No other recording captures this extraordinary "stage consecration drama's" peculiar combination of desolation and radiance. Goodall and Vickers are both intense and sublime. The orchestra play wonderfully for Goodall, and rest of the cast are fine, except for the Gurnemanz of Hendrix (but is inspired by Goodall in Act 3 to give a noble account.) The recording is sadly out of print, but nevertheless all Wagner lovers should track it down.
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