R.Wagner, Parsifal, Thielemann / Meier, Selig, Domingo, Struckmann, Anger, Bankl
Here it might be modified to read: If you don’t have grave objections to Parsifal being older than Gurnemanz (a very fine Franz-Josef Selig – although I should have liked to see, admittedly still younger, Rene Pape on it), or Domingo’s still, erm… “operatic” German, or a minor howler from Benedikt Kobel’s First Knight of the Grail, or the fact that you can get the incomparable Waltraud Meier in better voice still on the Barenboim recording, or simply having a second, third or fourth recording of Parsifal (Knappertsbusch, Barenboim, Kubelik and even the self-consciously beautiful Karajan are, all in their own way, de rigeur) you should seek this out for true magic being unleashed in the orchestral pit courtesy of the teutonic Thielemann who conducts in great romantic, flexible fashion. And given just how rewarding and compelling his reading of the score is, above caveats look very minor suddenly:
Domingo may be too old to believably take on this role but at least you don’t have to watch him – replete with hair extensions – on CD, and in Wagner his voice is a smidgen less distinctive (and therefore more amenable to convincingly portray a character) than in any other composer or language; he does not stand out as "Plácido" quite as much. Speaking of language: What he has lost in steady glow since the days of his Lohengrin recording with Solti he has more than made up by improving his German from ‘atrocious’ to ‘passable’. Meier, too, may not soar quite in the same way she once did, but Kundry is still her role; I could think of no one I’d rather hear in it (until, that is, Ekaterina Semenchuk decides to take it on). And what some might consider loss of total security, one could also consider an added animalistic, raw element – particularly apt in Act 1.
Christian Thielemann was often seen as the antipode to Daniel Barenboim. Leading the two big opera houses in Berlin, sometimes verbally sparring, Barenboim as the spiritual descendent of Furtwängler, Thielemann the protégé and successor to Karajan they were pitted by some as Barenboim the ‘cosmopolitan’ vs. Thielemann the ‘German’. That may all have calmed down since Thielemann spends most of his time in Munich with the Philharmonic and it won’t be fuelled any further by this recording, either, because it is Thielemann who is more “Furtwänglerian” than Barenboim, with the tempi magnificently – I don’t want to say ‘pulled around’: elongated and drawn together. At times Thielemann has Knappertsbusch-like gravitas and breadth, elsewhere he is swift and lean like Krauss and all is done with such a sure hand that the tempos only seem right and appropriate, never as if Thielemann were exerting his will onto the work. The balance of the recording, especially as concerns the choir, is better than in the Tristan & Isolde; stage noises don’t intrude. (Not surprising since, famously, nothing is actually going on in Parsifal.)
A glorious and necessary addition for the Parsifal-maniac – but a pricey one. First choice among modern recordings remains either Barenboim or Kubelik (both studio recordings) or, among live and historic recordings, one of the many Knappertsbusch versions. With Thielemann, compromises must me accepted as far as the singing goes; the music is king: Wagnerites and those in the making will want to put this high on their Easter wish-list.
DG 4776006 (B0006574-02)