OP0374. PARSIFAL, recorded 1991, w.Barenboim Cond. Deutschen Staatsoper Ensemble & Berlin Phil.; José van Dam, John Tomlinson, Matthias Hölle, Siegfried Jerusalem, Günther von Kannen & Waltraud Meier. (Germany) 4-Teldec 74448, Slipcase Edition w.Elaborate Libretto-Brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 090317444826
“As Wagner once said and almost always proved, his was ‘the art of transition’. Nowhere is this more true than in his last music-drama, PARSIFAL. The work is virtually all transition. In almost every bar of PARSIFAL one can hear Wagner refusing to allow his orchestra to speak in the overpowering, violently cathartic musical language of its direct forebear, DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN. There are almost no sharp edges here, no clear boundaries. As Gurnemanz tells Parsifal in Act I, here time and space are one; Wagner's deliberate confusion and suffusion of tonality, individual instrumental voices, and easily defined tempi create, under the right baton, clouds of glowing sound that drift, float, intermingle, and separate with all the slow, undriven certainty of clouds, waves, tectonic plates, the breath of one in deep sleep; in a word, the steady state of timelessness.
That final metaphor of breath is the most apt, I think. Throughout the 4¼ hours of Daniel Barenboim's remarkable new Teldec recording, I consistently felt I was listening to the deep, slow breathing of some vast sleeping beast - the earth, or perhaps the flux of time and space, matter and energy themselves. I can't tell you how physically restful, peaceful, calming I found this performance, without it being in any way boring or soporific. Barenboim's may indeed be the first recording of PARSIFAL which fully fulfills Wagner's intentions of ‘a stage-consecration festival play’, by which he seems to have meant not just another opera, but a catalyst for spiritual (as opposed to merely religious) transformation. At the end of this recording I felt a somewhat different person than when I started. That, of course, is how it should be - what more can one want from a work of mere art?
Barenboim’s is is the surest hand to have navigated on record these dark, bottomless waters, but I hesitate to define his accomplishment here in terms of ‘control’ - even though that must, of course, have been exactly what he most exerted in these sessions. It doesn't sound that way. Rather, I get the distinct impression of conductor, orchestra, singers, chorus, and engineers simply stepping out of the music's way….how Waltraud Meier, in her third recorded Kundry in six years, just keeps getting better in the part as her voice and dramatic insight mature; how Siegfried Jerusalem, who in recent recordings has turned out to be the heldentenor we never knew we had all along, strikes just the right balance among Parsifal's foolish boyhood energy, the sexual awakening of his youth, and the soul-weariness of a young man far sadder and wiser than his years; how the Berlin Staatsoper Chorus and the Berlin Philharmonic sing and play with seemingly effortless perfection; of how powerful the Karfreitag passages are; how luminous the final scene; how the Grail Bells are the best I've ever heard, sounding immensely huge and distant; how the complex center of Act II - sexuality, spirituality, and incest all inextricably entwined in a male/female mystery beyond morality and mortality - is so clearly stated in all its glassy opacity; and finally, how gorgeously recorded it all is, entirely natural, the walls of Berlin's Jesus-Christus-Kirche fully there before my ears.
I couldn't decide whether this was the most dramatic PARSIFAL I've ever heard, or the least. The characters felt far more like real human beings to me than the usual sleepwalking archetypes, and at the same time struck me as simply the collective unconscious given superb voice. Either way, this is the most satisfying PARSIFAL ever recorded.”
- Richard Lehnert, STEREOPHILE, 7 April, 2008