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Richard Wagner: Parsifal
20 Feb 2007

WAGNER: Parsifal

Recorded on 28 March 1970 in Rome, this recording of Parsifal makes available a live performance conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch, one of the foremost interpreters of Wagner’s works in his day.

Richard Wagner: Parsifal

Timo Callio (Parsifal); Ursula Schröder-Feinen (Kundry); Franz Crass (Gurnemanz); Theo Adam (Amfortas); Gerd Nienstedt (Klingsor); Kurt Moll (Titurel); Orchestra

Myto 3 MCD 063.328 [3CDs]

$54.98  Click to buy

While he was a prominent figure at Bayreuth, Sawallisch is conspicuous for the lack of a recording of Parsifal from that venue. Yet this release addresses such a need with a cast that includes some of the finest Wagnerian singers of the time. Most importantly, this Myto recording features Ursula Schröder-Feinen, a remarkable singer whose accomplishments are best-known by those who saw her perform. While some recent CDs, like this one, preserve live performances of this singer, the discography is lacking when it comes to studio recordings that include Schröder-Feinen.

As Kundry, Schröder-Feinen is remarkable in her ability not only to perform the role well, but to imbue it with a vocal characterization that emerges on a recording and not just on stage. Her voice is suited to the role, not only for the demands that the role poses, but in the intensity with which she approaches the entirety of the second act. This performance benefits from a freshness and spontaneity often hoped for a Kundry to embody. Schröder-Feinen’s tenuous sounds as Klingsor awakens her give way to the conscious and dynamic vocal presence of Kundry as she attempts to seduce Parsifal, but inevitably fails. Such failure is only on the part of the character in the opera, as it is otherwise for the singer in this performance. Vocally, Schröder-Feinen triumphs in her execution of the act with elan.

Those familiar with Schröder-Feinen will find this performance to represent her well. With a performance like this one of Parsifal, the aural documentation concurs with the usual judgments about the quality of this singer’s voice and interpretive facility. With a freshness some associate with the character of Sieglinde in Die Walkűre, Schröder-Feinen is enticing, and, more importantly, convincing Kundry. As many know, Sawallisch worked Schröder-Feinen, and it is clear from this recording that he elicited some fine singing from her. While her career was relatively short, her quality is evident in performances like this one.

The other members of the cast also effective, with such well-know singers as Theo Adam and Kurt Moll giving the kinds of performances that helped to establish their reputations. Nienstedt’s portrayal of Klingsor is vivid throughout his appearances in the second act, with the Finnish tenor Timo Callio captured in this live performance. Known in the 1970s for roles like Parsifal, Callio is not often found on recordings, and this particular release captures him just before he became more widely known in Europe. Callio was known in the US, but is not a familiar voice, and those interested in hearing him have the opportunity to do so in this recording. In fact, the second act is worth hearing for his approach to that part of the opera.

The liner notes contain some reference to the secondary roles, and as well as they are handled in this performance, the choral forces are notable for their precision and intonation. The chorus at the end of the first act is not only precise in the ritualistic scene, but the intonation rings wonderfully as the scene comes to its close. Likewise, the flower maidens in the second act are extroverted and suitably aggressive in their vocal seduction of the troubled Parsifal. They offer the kind of precision associated with the trio of Rhinemaidens in Das Rheingold, creating an intimacy in the scene that can be lacking in some performances. It is this level of detail that makes Sawallisch’s performance compelling, with the nuances essential to a solid interpretation of Wagner’s music fully in place.

In terms of conducting, Sawallisch contributes a fine breadth to the performance, with tempos the tempos flowing naturally. His treatment of the notationally four-square rhythms demonstrates a fluidity of pulse that allows the text to be heard clearly and the orchestral interjections and interludes to contribute to the drama. The Grail procession is not only part of the musical scenery, but also a moment for the audience to reflect on the drama, with the ardent solemnity emerging easily in this notable performance.

On the whole, the CD itself is remarkably clean. Recorded near the stage, the recording presents the voices vividly, if not, perhaps overly prominent. While the orchestra is still audible, the balance with the solo voices and choral forces is not always event, and dynamic levels take their cue from the performers on stage more than the efforts of the conductor in the pit. This is not entirely unwelcome, as it gives listeners the chance to hear some of the famous voices directly, without being obscured by an orchestral passage or lost within an accompanying figure.

A live performance, not a studio recording, the ambiance and balance is not always ideal, but it is possible to become accustomed to it and focus on the recording. Unlike some other CD releases of live performances, this Myto recording also benefits from judicious banding, such that it is possible to find specific sections of each act easily, as reflected in the track listings in the accompanying booklet. The recording does not include the libretto, but this should not pose problems with a work as familiar as Parsifal. Those who wish to have a copy of the libretto might consult some of the resources on the Internet for this text and those of Wagner’s other operas. All in all, this is another fine release by Myto, which makes available some worthy performances in its line of recordings.

James Zychowicz

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