WAGNER: Parsifal (complete opera) – Christian Elsner (Parsifal)/ Michelle DeYoung (Kundry)/ Franz-Josef Selig (Gurnemanz)/ Evgeny Nikitin (Amfortas)/ Alexei Tanovits Dimitry Ivashchenko (Titurel)/ Eike Wilm Schulte (Klingsor)/ Berlin Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra/ Marek Janowski – PentaTone multichannel SACD PTC 5186 401 (4 discs), 3:46:20 [Distr. by Naxos] ****1/2:
I did a summary of my own Parsifal feelings—and favorite recordings—about a year and a half ago in my review of Gergiev’s stunningly—and surprisingly—excellent recording.
That was the first Super Audio recording, and now, only a short time later with the PentaTone announcement of ten major Wagner operas in the offing by 2013, we have yet another in sound that outdoes the Gergiev, but a performance that falls just short of it. There is also a third recording in hi-def as well by Jaap van Zweden on Challenge Classics that doesn’t match up to these.
Though the performance history of this opera shows that a lot of different tempos have been taken, this one under consideration is quite swift compared to the Gergiev. I mentioned in my previous review that “a fast Parsifal ends up being a ridiculous Parsifal” and generally I am sticking with this statement; Janowski doesn’t linger, and in many parts of the opera, like the opening of Act III, it works very well indeed. No one has ever said that Parsifal has to be a study in somnambulating, and Janowski makes certain we never subscribe to that theory while listening to his interpretation. But when I hear the opening prelude to Act I, despite the fact that the SACD sound is really superior to the Gergiev, much more spacious, airy and detailed, I miss the inherent reverence that the Mariinsky Orchestra conductor brings to the piece, so vital in establishing the tone for the whole work. Janowski gives us the beauty of sound, Gergiev the spiritual essence.
Cast-wise it’s hard to find a weak link; while the Gurnemanz of Gergiev’s René Pape remains one of the most thrilling performances on disc, Franz-Josef Selig poses an excellent foil for him even though his reading is not quite on that level. Christian Elsner easily equals the oft-maligned performance of Gary Lehman for Gergiev, and Michelle DeYoung’s Kundry is not all that different from Violeta Urmana’s slightly inconsistent yet still moving performance on the Gergiev in that her presentation is also finely-considered while still giving the impression that it is a work in progress. With the Amfortas of Evgeny Nikitin we really don’t need comparisons—he stars on both recordings.
It’s a tough choice between the two, but for now I am sticking with Gergiev. However, no one buying the recording will regret it, and it makes for a fine third edition in the new Wagner series.
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a live duo performance by Archie Shepp.