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25.5.06

Domingo Notwithstanding, This Is Thielemann's Parsifal

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R.Wagner, Parsifal,
Thielemann / Meier, Selig, Domingo, Struckmann, Anger, Bankl
DG

Age hardly seems to slow Plácido Domingo down; instead, he seems invigorated by his numerous duties and continuous love for music. It should be little surprise that the tireless tenor is featured on two releases this month; Puccini’s early work Edgar and, more notably, a live Parsifal from Vienna – both for Deutsche Grammophon. It also isn’t surprising that that recording from June last year prominently uses Domingo in its marketing, his name on the cover in as big a font as that of the actual star, conductor Christian Thielemann. Ironically, this Parsifal is hardly notable because of Domingo (and indeed some may say it is notable despite him). In trying to pin down in a few words why this recording turns out to be so appealing, I am peculiarly reminded of the last live Wagner recording of Thielemann’s where the verdict was: if you like the featured singer (a lovely Debby Voigt as Isolde), go ahead – but the real reason to investigate the recording would be the orchestral playing, the way that Thielemann has with the score.

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, René 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.


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Knappertsbusch, 1962

UK | DE | FR

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Kubelik

UK | DE | FR

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Barenboim

UK | DE | FR
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 fueled 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 be 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)

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