Wagner: Parsifal - Gergiev
Mariinsky MAR0508 (4 discs)
Classical - Opera
Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus
Valery Gergiev (conductor)
Parsifal, the Mariinsky label's first recording of a Wagner opera, features an exceptional international cast led by René Pape, Gary Lehman and Violeta Urmana.
Wagner described his final complete opera as 'A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage' and the work has always sparked controversy, mixing moral and religious themes with music of irresistible sumptuousness. The opera was inspired by Wolfram von Eschenbach's Arthurian poem Parzifal. Yet despite the story's overt Christian imagery, Wagner also draws on ideas from other beliefs including Buddhism. The 'harmonic experiments' that he adopted for his previous opera Tristan und Isolde are further refined to create music of astonishing beauty that still retains and reflects the deep morality of the tale.
The Mariinsky Theatre has a long association with Wagner's music. The composer himself conducted at the Theatre, which in 1863 was the location of the first performance of music from his as yet unstaged Ring Cycle. Over the past decade Valery Gergiev has become a frequent conductor of Wagner's operas, establishing a formidable reputation in the repertoire, although remarkably this is his first recording of the composer's operas.
Other Wagner recordings available on the Mariinsky label include Die Walküre and Das Rheingold.
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Review by Graham Williams - September 20, 2010
Between 2003 and 2006 I attended three complete performances of Wagner’s ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ given by Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Theatre company; two in Baden-Baden and one in the UK. Though the staging, and most definitely much of the singing left a lot to be desired, the superb orchestral playing and the visceral power of Gergiev’s interpretation of the epic dramas was, to me, mightily impressive. Over the subsequent years Gergiev has conducted more Wagner operas worldwide, and this fine new recording of Parsifal should further enhance his reputation as a major interpreter of this repertoire.
The casting of such a major undertaking is always problematic due to the dearth of singers with the necessary stamina and experience in tackling Wagner’s taxing roles. Gergiev has wisely not attempted to cast the opera solely from members of his Mariinsky company but, for three of the main roles, has chosen two already internationally renowned singers of Wagner and another with a growing reputation as a promising heldentenor.
Undoubtedly, in purely vocal terms the finest performance on these discs is the Gurnemanz of René Pape. He uses his resonant and finely projected voice to imbue the character with great authority and stature and in this respect his performance matches those of some of the supreme interpreters of this role from the past including Hans Hotter, Gotlob Frick and Kurt Moll. In beauty of tone and unforced delivery he is the equal of Kurt Moll (the chosen Gurnemanz for Karajan, Kubelik and Levine on their recordings of Parsifal) and although more youthful sounding than any of those mentioned above he delivers the text with great clarity and mature understanding.
The Lithuanian mezzo turned soprano Violeta Urmana is an experienced Kundry who has been essaying this role for a number of years. Hers is not a particularly distinctive voice but while she may lack the seductive and creamy tones of say Waltraud Meier or Christa Ludwig, her portrayal of this enigmatic and Janus-like character is most convincing, especially when communicating Kundry’s wilder aspects.
The youthful sounding Parsifal of the American tenor Gary Lehman is most welcome. He has a bright well-projected voice and exceptionally clear diction. There are moments throughout this recording where he does push his voice too hard and it develops a noticeable beat, but fortunately such moments are rare. Mariinsky company regulars sing the roles of Amfortas, Klingsor and Titurel and all three are outstanding. Evgeny Nikitin is a tortured Amfortas, particularly impressive in his Act 1 narration, where he manages through his singing to express the king’s pain and anguish without sacrificing his inherent nobility. Nikolai Putilin is a terrifying Klingsor, the personification of the evil necromancer, and his exchanges with Kundry are some of the most memorable aspects of Act 2. The brief, but important, role of Titurel is sung with a cathedral-like resonance by the bass Alexei Tanovitski who is balanced on this recording to be audible, something that is rarely the case for most Titurels in the opera house. The splendid Mariinsky chorus as variously Knights of the Grail and Flower Maidens acquit themselves with distinction and the smaller roles are also well cast.
What, however, makes this Parsifal very special is the intensity of Gergiev’s conducting and the committed playing that he elicits from his Mariinsky orchestra. His pacing of the score is masterly throughout the opera. In the outer acts it is spacious, yet always forward moving, while the second act has a gripping theatricality not often found in other versions of the work. Timings, for those interested, are:
Act 1 1hr. 53 min.
Act 2 1hr. 07 min.
Act 3 1hr. 19 min.
The 5.0-channel DSD recording made by producer James Mallinson and engineered by John Newton and Dirk Sobotka took place between 5 and 15 June 2009 in the Mariinsky Concert Hall and incorporates live performances. It has a natural concert balance, honest rather than spectacular, though the varying choral perspectives, off-stage fanfares and distant Monsalvat bells are impressively captured. There is no evidence of an audience though the microphones have not managed to avoid capturing Gergiev’s occasional groaning and sharp exhalation of breath.
The presentation of this set is up to the usual high quality we have come to expect from this label.
The 4 discs are individually packaged in a slim cardboard box that also contains a lavish180-page booklet with artist profiles, the libretto in four languages and excellent notes by Leonid Gakkel on Parsifal that amusingly include a paragraph entitled ‘How to listen to it’.
This is a recording that all Wagner aficionados will wish to investigate, no matter how many other versions of Parsifal they already own.
Copyright © 2010 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net