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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 December 2014
It's difficult to add to what has already been said by some of the reviews here, and as the rating shows, this is another rave one. Wagner's "sacred festival opera" is a setting of the great Medieval poet Wolfram von Eschenbach's poem available in Parzival and Titurel (Oxford World's Classics). This long poem tells what we know as the Grail stories, though Wolfram was following the French poet Chretien de Troyes, who was probably the first poet to put this story down.

Of course Wagner, true to character, made something of his own of the story. This is partly because a theatre piece requires some cuts from the original poem which is very long, but it is also partly also to incorporate his own ideas. There are elements borrowed from other mythologies than Christian, including Buddhism. Some of this was what helped precipitate his falling out with the philosopher Nietzsche who, according to some letters, loved the music but found the drama "too Christian." In the end, regardless of one's feelings about that, Parsifal is a masterpiece worthy of comparison with Wagner's other great operas like "Tristan," "Die Meistersinger" and "The Ring" with some of his most sumptuous and intoxicating music ever, though those of us of a "mystical" bent may also find much in this vein here also. Parsifal is very much a "late" work.

There have been a number of great recordings in the past. A favourite of mine remains the Knappertbusch one from Bayreuth, Wagner: Parsifal (DECCA The Originals), with singers such as Jess Thomas, Marti Talvela and the incomparable Hans Hotter. This, even though at a slow pace, fully exploits the special acoustics in Wagner's own concert hall at Bayreuth for which "Parsifal" was written and the recording has never been bettered. Knappertbusch's conducting never sounded so magnificent. There are other fine recordings from, amongst others, Reginald Goodall (Wagner: Parsifal) and Karajan in his latter years (Wagner: Parsifal). Of past great Wagner conductors who we sadly don't have a complete recording by, one is Wilhelm Furtwangler, though a recording of two "bleeding chunks" (see Beethoven - Symphony No 5; Wagner - Parsifal Prelude and Good Friday Spell) gives us a glimpse of what might have been.

Daniel Barenboim has always been unashamedly influenced by the Furtwangler. He has something of his great predecessor's inspirational and spiritual qualities that bring an essential visionary edge to the music. This is very much in the spirit of the composer here. There is even something of Furtwangler's "incandescence" in the sound, though Barenboim takes things at a faster pace. This recording for me is ample proof that Danny is possibly the greatest Wagner conductor of our time.

That is not without saying the singing also is good. Matthias Hoelle makes a more than adequate Gurnemanz. Waltraud Meier captures the split in Kundry's nature with great sensitivity. But the main glory for me, along with Barenboim's conducting, is Siegfried Jerusalem's Parsifal: each on their own is reason enough to buy this set. The only flaw I would cite with this release is that there is no libretto to follow the action though that was perhaps a way of keeping the price down. But there are reasonably priced versions of this at little extra cost (e.g. Parsifal: Libretto). At this price, the set is an absolute bargain -even after the extra purchase of libretto- which no self-respecting Wagnerite should be without. An ideal one of this work if it is to be the only version in a collection.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 29 May 2014
Several previous reviewers, especially Stewart Crowe and KC, have got this right, so I won't belabour the point, just add a few home-grown thoughts of my own.

"Parsifal" is one of those operas I cannot stop collecting and, like all obsessives, I seek the ultimate version which of course does not exist. Hitherto, I have hugely enjoyed Karajan's and Kubelik's stereo recordings, while always finding time for the many and various Knappertsbusch live Bayreuth recordings, all in mono except for the famous 1962 performance; I especially like that version and Kna's last one from 1964 with Hotter in best voice and a young Jon Vickers. The 1951 inaugural performance does not thrill me despite the wonderful conducting and the presence of several peerless singers: I find Ludwig Weber rather dull and wobbly compared with the magnificent Kurt Moll, who remains my beau idéal of a Gurnemanz.

Therein lies the rub here: Matthias Hölle is undoubtedly a fine singer, grave and steady but clearly in the lighter-voiced mould and in comparison with the greatest - Hotter in his prime and the aforementioned Moll - he is, well, just ordinary, without Hotter's psychological profundity and warm humanity or Moll's sheer, purring fluency of voice. Similarly, Jerusalem is singing to the limits of his voice and is somewhat dry of tone at climactic points, nor does he provide the impassioned involvement of Vickers or even James King at his best - but I have no real complaint about him. Otherwise, this is still a first-rate cast, with a young Waltraud Meier providing a subtle and intelligent Kundry, von Kannen a rather hollow, dry-voiced but clearly psychotic and very dramatic Klingsor and van Dam repeating his peerlessly vocalised Amfortas, combining beauty of sound with desperate anguish and perhaps even an enhanced maturity since his recording for Karajan.

Speaking of which, this is the BPO just post-Karajan and it retains the aureate glow he cultivated in them over the years. The orchestral passages, especially the Transformation Music and Preludes, are simply stunning and enhanced by the acoustic of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche being so roundly caught by the engineers. I love Barenboim's trick of implementing barely perceptible rallentandos just before the climax. He has here shaken off the sclerotic tempi which marred his Bayreuth performances and which caused controversy; this is a "normally" paced "Parsifal" and his manner is closest to Karajan's hieratic treatment of this work as a combination of staged ritual and intense drama.

It would be churlish indeed to award fewer than five stars to a recording which gets so much right and is clearly more than the sum of its parts, even if it not my first choice. The curious, tolerant of a more propulsive approach to "Parsifal", could also sample the super-bargain Kegel and the Boulez, while, for a wild ride, you could also try the heavily cut version starring a surprisingly apt Callas, Christoff, Panerai and Baldelli singing in Italian under Gui.

No libretto in this bargain re-issue.
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on 31 May 2017
Excellent performances from the singers and orchestra alike. So far so good, and in fairness that's pretty much the only thing that matters at the end of the day.

I do think the sound level is a bit low, though - and it's not just a case of turning up the volume either, as the dynamic range is quite wide (come to think of it, maybe it's that, rather than the sound level per se, which is the problem here?).

Unfortunately the CD case and the labels/inserts are so poorly constructed that I don't think I've ever seen such rubbish packaging! And while that might be merely irritating with a single disc, it all becomes quite frustrating when shuffling the four CDs in and out of the case. Seems silly to ruin an otherwise good product with such bad wrapper.
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on 9 February 2014
I chose this CD set because I have always had the highest regard for Daniel Barenboim as a conductor. I greatly admire his apparently minimalist style that so well respects his performers, allowing them the freedom to give of their individual best whilst letting him take care of the whole. To me, it is a supreme example of leadership that could well be followed in many other walks of life. Here, the result is a performance that I doubt can be bettered artistically and technically the sound is superb.
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on 20 February 2017
As with my purchase of the same forces Tristan and Isolde, I bought this chiefly to enhance my knowledge and appreciation of The Ring and came to it fearing it would be "difficult". What I revelation, I love it and I it is distracting me from my studies of The Ring and I now have five Wagner masterpieces to explore.
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on 3 January 2016
Wonderful music !
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on 8 May 2014
I was pleased with and I enjoy listening to it.
It will be played frequently, time after time.
Thank you.
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on 7 April 2015
Parsifal is such a vast work that encompasses such a large portion of the Serious musical spectrum that it is only right that we scrutinise recordings of this Quasi-Christian Music drama with care. It is also near impossible to discuss this recording in a stand alone basis with out venturing to mention and compare, either favourably or not, with other recordings on the market. But I shall begin in this fashion. There are four main characters, in no particular order: Gurnemanz, Parsifal, Amfortas, and Kundry. Klingsor to an extent a fifth. We shall start with the easiest first. If I said to you, who is the greatest Ac-tor to portray Poirot? The answer is so blindingly obvious for the very question itself to be redundant. As we know, David Suchet (Convention dictates I call him David Sachet) IS Poirot. End of. Don’t give me any of that old Albert Finney nonsense! In this manner then we ascertain that George London IS Amfortas. Has anyone ever portrayed the suffering King with such power and Passion, passion above all! Here we have, as with the Wunder Karajan recording, Jose Van Dam. Here, Gentlemen, is your problem. He is significantly improved here than the whispering tediousness of the Karajan performance. But he still reverts to type at the most inopportune times. WHY?! I like to imagine it is simply because he is running out of puff and disguises this, along with the fact he simply cannot reach the notes as he so wishes, by whispering, disguised with that old get out clause, I am in search of the characters inner anguish. Get out. You’re whispering and on a CD it simply isn’t good enough. George London would turn in his grave.
Now! Gurnemanz. We need power. Solemnity. Dignity. But always power. No trailing off into whispering bouts. Hans Hotter of course was a colossus. Literarily. His 1962 performance, which is a thing of Leg-end, under the Knappertsbusch, who incidentally owned the art of legato, whilst very loud and powerfully sung, is tinged slightly with the infamous wobble. A bit like the infamous Wobbly Ludwig Weber. Here we have the noble voiced Mathias Hölle of whom no one has ever heard of. But incorrectly be it! He is sublime. Not having the same timbre of a Kurt Moll, but whereas the other sighs and whispers his way ploddingly at times, Hölle never ever does so. He is, and this is the word, CONSISTENT! Always the same breadth of voice. A true pleasure. When he is telling the old story to the knights of how the Grail and spear vanished during one Holy Night, he is simply beautiful. A winner he be.
Now then! Parsifal. Sir Georg Solti’s recording famously suffered bad from a recurrent, and particularly virulent case, of Rene Kollo disease and sadly never recovered. In 1962 we had the unflappable Jess Thomas. Here, he is head to head with this recordings Siegfried Jerusalem, who just, just takes the honours. Because here is a man who understands how this role is to be sung. Never shouty, always, again, consistent. No random wobble. A beautiful voice and I can never tire of hearing him spring forth at the last moment to return the Holy Spear. It is sublime. This recording then is adding up nicely.
Now for Kundry. Problematical I agree. Here we have the sensuous, and alluring tones of Waltraud Meier. ??? Indeed. But she is lovely. As close as you can get to the Queen of Kundry’s, Irene Dalis. No hysterical crying and/ or laughing like we get from the Christa Ludwig who stalked the Solti recording. I don’t consider her on recording to be a pivotal character, Kundry. But if it swings it for you, Sir, Meier is superb.
Right. Klingsor. Can any singer ever hope to match the dark and ominous tones of Gustav Neidlinger? No. But I’ll tell you what! Some gentleman by the name of Günter Von Kannen has a good go! He is here, dark, powerfully voiced, and tries his best. Again, Sir Georg, and I like Sir Georg by the way, failed in his choice of the high pitched, Supposed Baritone of Zoltan Kélémen. Just never worked.
Orchestras. This is recorded just as well as the Karajan, which I also own. But the only difference being that Barenboim asks you to turn your CD player up a good few notches to appreciate the beautiful sounds of the Berliner Philharmonker. Do so, and enjoy. Soltis orchestra was deep and strong but he conducted it as though it was a part of the Ring. We need light, but forceful conducting. Barenboim slightly increases tempo at the right moments when the Drama could be said to drag. He simply does NOT allow this to happen. For this price, this is a ridiculous steal and you must purchase it. I believe Wagner himself would approve of this cast and performance.
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on 24 July 2015
I would not want to dissent from the favourable comments of most – if not all – of the earlier reviews. I do, however, feel inclined to draw attention to a weakness that has become obvious to me, and compromises my appreciation of this, no doubt, estimable issue. The rub is the recording itself. I have come late to this performance, and listened to it with unexpected delight, except for one aspect (well, there were a few others, but not that they need to be referred to here). The problem is the recorded sound. It was obvious for the first, but I suspected it may have been purely subjective, so I ignored it – or tried to. But the more I listened, the more distracting it became. I left the discs for a day or two, and then returned to them, replaying Act 3. I found the same problem: a general lack of focus, and shifting perspectives. The lead voices are recessed, the orchestra, for all its evident beauty, veiled, and the overall transfer-level lower than ‘normal’. I decided to compare DG’s recording with Karajan – same orchestra, same venue, with just ten years between them. What a difference! The DG recording and transfer are in every way superior – clarity, focus, levels, perspectives,... the lot!

(Not to mention the Karajan’s performance – which I find preferable too, in every respect! But that’s another matter.)
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on 16 May 2013
Cannot fault the performance. It is sublime. In excellent sound as well. All the cast appear to be well up to the mark. There may be better performances out there but this one is very good indeed. A very safe recommendation.
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