Wagner: Parsifal

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
WORKS: Parsifal
PERFORMER: Falk Struckmann, Ain Anger, Franz-Josef Selig, Plácido Domingo, Wolfgang Bankl, Waltraud Meier; Vienna State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Christian Thielemann
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6006
Christian Thielemann inverts Parsifal’s customary piety by humanising overtly religious solemnity but finding holiness and awe in moments surrounding human suffering – hence both an extended pause as Amfortas revels in the beauty of a pain-free morning and a horrifying 12-second abyss after Kundry’s ‘und…lachte!’ Acts 1 and 3 bristle with vitality and character (warm phrasing and seamless orchestral playing tend to ameliorate occasional brisk, even hasty moments), whereas Klingsor’s magic powers and the seductive wiles of the Flower Maidens and Kundry in Act 2 make a comparatively stately, four-square impression. Although Thielemann’s conception thus seems uneven, at least when heard apart from the June 2005 stage performances it accompanied, the singers have made it their own.

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Space precludes extended discussion of Waltraud Meier’s Kundry, Domingo’s Parsifal, Franz-Josef Selig’s Gurnemanz, and Falk Struckmann’s Amfortas, but although none are beyond criticism, all sound so committed that undertaking comparisons and listing flaws feels ungenerous. (Alas, Klingsor can use more voice than Bankl possesses, and these Flower Maidens are less than ideally alluring.) Despite beautiful recorded sound, stage noises and questionable balance occasionally intrude: Meier and Domingo don’t always surmount the orchestra and it’s difficult to hear both Klingsor’s last lines and the beginning of Parsifal’s final entrance; presumably off-stage, Titurel sounds stentorian. Even so, I have to say that this recording is easily the most stimulating, expressively immediate, and completely realised version among the few (including Boulez/DG and Jordan/Erato) that offer distinctive alternatives to traditional views of Wagner’s swan-song, still best embodied by Knappertsbusch.