Daniel Barenboimconducts Wagner’s Parsifal

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Bel Air Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
WORKS: Parsifal
PERFORMER: Andreas Schager, Anja Kampe, René Pape, Wolfgang Koch, Tomas Tómasson; Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim; dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov (Berlin, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: BAC 128

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There are two production clichés in Wagner that I find it hard to stomach: swastikas in Die Meistersinger, and a grim grail ritual in Parsifal without a hint of the music’s transcendence. Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Berlin take involves horrid drinking of blood from sinner Gurnemanz’s grisly wound in a sludgy basement, but as he’s the kind of rigorous director who, like Richard Jones, makes strong connections, much can be forgiven. The second act is perhaps the best I’ve seen; Klingsor as twitchy pervert – Tomas Tomasson acts as well as sings superbly – is here the father of Kundry and the Flower Maidens.

Kundry, refreshingly, is the human redeemer, a sane woman in a sensible short raincoat. Anja Kampe, most intense of Wagnerian singing actresses, goes all the pitiful way; I wept for her in Act III, and began to see a big love story between her and tortured adolescent Parsifal. Andreas Schager is a real find, plausibly anguished; René Pape, a reliable Gurnemanz, deals naturally with the cult spokesman’s ultimate marginalisation. Wolfgang Koch as the suffering Amfortas redeems minimal acting with vocal heft; the orchestral colours, with excellent cello and clarinet phrasing, win back some sympathy.

Daniel Barenboim adapts to the skewed dramaturgy, making Act II mostly fast and light. What’s going on at the end is anyone’s guess; no booklet notes or extras explain the Tcherniakov take. Presentation mars the Prelude with rolling credits. But if nothing’s sacred here, the vision may compel you. Start out with the Met or Zurich DVDs, though, for a narrative that’s more congruent with Wagner’s.

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David Nice