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WAGNER: Parsifal

CD Button Dalayman, Castle, Cragg, Devin, James, Watson, Shaw; Cleveman, Ellicott, Roth, Murray, Rees, Fox, Greenan, Tomlinson, Hagen; Hallé, Hallé Youth Choir, Royal Opera Chorus, Elder. Hallé CDHLD7539 (4)

Recordings Parsifal Cover 1117

UNLIKE THE MAJOR London-based orchestras, Manchester’s Hallé has recorded just a few complete operas during its distinguished history. That’s finally changing, thanks to Mark Elder, the Hallé’s music director since 1999. Wagner is obvious repertoire for this orchestra, as it has proved under Elder in live-CD releases of Götterdämmerung and Die Walküre. In Parsifal, from the 2013 BBC Proms, conductor and orchestra are at their best. 

Elder can command the vast spans of Wagner’s musical architecture (an ability acquired, no doubt, from the conductor’s mentor, legendary Wagner interpreter Reginald Goodall). In this eloquent, beautifully proportioned reading, only rarely is the Hallé’s full power unleashed, and it’s invariably stunning. Especially marvelous are the magnificent cello section, the terrifically incisive percussion and, above all, the sterling trumpets, so vital in this opera. Elder understands exactly how to execute a marking such as “Heftig doch nicht übereilt” (Vigorous yet not overly hurried) in the dramatic opening of the Klingsor–Kundry scene, and he can negotiate any passage marked “Sehr langsam” (Very slow) without losing forward motion (as in Act III, when the returning Parsifal lays down his sword and removes his helmet). As always, Elder is connected to his principal singers, who must have been grateful for the firm yet flexible support he provides.

John Tomlinson shows vocal wear as Gurnemanz. Above the staff, his bass is unsteady, and Wagnerian legato is no longer his strength. But he compensates with his characterization of the wise knight—appropriately rough-hewn at first, later singularly touching—and the authority of his delivery. Certain details linger, such as the awestruck mention of Christ’s “höchstes Wunderblut” (Act I) and the quietly joyous recognition at “Erkennst du ihn?” (Act III). 

Like Tomlinson, Katarina Dalayman, as Kundry, finds Wagner’s high climaxes difficult. But her warm lower-middle range enhances the opening of “Ich sah das Kind,” and—unlike most Kundrys—she laughs believably, making “Ha, ha, bist du keusch?” scathing. Opposite Dalayman in the title role is Lars Cleveman, a recent Siegfried at the Met. Until a beautifully floated F-sharp on “Du weinest” (when Parsifal sees Gurnemanz’s tears in Act III), the tenor makes few genuinely lovely sounds in a workmanlike, dramatically generalized portrayal. 

Tom Fox’s Klingsor remains vivid, but Detlef Roth, as Amfortas, is disappointingly lightweight, though he’s passionately committed to the role. The freshest, steadiest, most velvet-toned singing of the principals comes from Reinhard Hagen, as the aged Titurel.

The Royal Opera Chorus brings sufficient grandeur to the Grail scenes, matched by exquisite work from the two children’s choirs. The Squires, Knights and especially the Flowermaidens all sing splendidly. The broadcast sound is admirable, and the “Prommers” are conspicuous by their silence—until a few seconds after the final chord, when they reward the performers with a roaring ovation.Roger Pines 

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