Marek Janowski

Wagner: Parsifal

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Parsifal is the second installment in Pentatone's ambitious project to record Wagner's ten important operas between in 2011 and 2013 in celebration of the bicentennial of his birth, featuring live concert performances with Marek Janowski leading Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and Rundfunkchor Berlin. Janowski is an old hand at Wagner, having conducted the first (and very fine) digital recording of The Ring, and he brings a sure understanding and unified conception to Parsifal. One of its most immediately noticeable characteristics is its urgency, which essentially means faster tempos. His version at three and three-quarters hours is nearly a half hour shorter than classic recordings like Knappertsbusch's 1951 Bayreuth version and Solti's Decca release. What's gained is a momentum and sense of dramatic movement in an opera that's notorious for bogged-down performances. It also has the effect of making the opera seem more personal, even intimate at moments, because the momentum gives the dialogue between characters such immediacy. Janowski is sensitive to allowing the music plenty of space to unfold where it calls for evoking a timeless expansiveness, such as the scenes in the Hall of the Grail. The orchestra and chorus perform with seamless assurance and with a velvety sensuality. Janowski keeps textures transparent so that details of the scoring are easily audible, and that transparency also contributes to the intimacy of his reading. The exemplary vocal performances are uniformly very fine, and the singers bring an acute sense of drama to their roles and their interactions The recording is blessed with a wealth of expressive, resonant, tonally sumptuous, and clearly differentiated low voices, including Evgeny Nikitin as Amfortas, Dimitry Ivashchenko as Titurel, Franz-Josef Selig as Gurnemanz, and Eike Wilm Schulte as Klingsor. Christian Elsner is a passionate Parsifal and his ringing tenor is heroic and robust. As Kundry, Michelle DeYoung sings with warmth and poignancy and is especially effective in her rich lower register. The sound of the hybrid multichannel SACD is immaculate and spacious.

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