Richard Wagner: Parsifal in 3 Acts [4 CDs]

Following their acclaimed previous Wagner opera releases, Hallé present the re-mastered recording of their 2013 Prom performance, recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall. Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal, which the composer declared to be his “farewell to the world” has been described as being in many ways the most “total” of all his “total art works”. His spiritual swansong unfurls as a slow-moving, ritualistic drama, and is arguably the best-suited of all his operas to the style of concert staging offered here. Recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall, London at the 2013 BBC Proms, featuring dramatic spatial placing of off-stage choruses and musicians.

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Elder had turned the Hallé into a northern powerhouse of its own … but this performance if Parsifal, recorded from a BBC Prom in 2013, is a testament to Elder’s ability to draw the very best from an orchestra. Yes his tempos are mostly slow, but the Hallé plays Wagner’s last opera with shimmering beauty. A real sense of unworldliness sustains the Act I ceremonial, in which the Holy Grail is unveiled to an audience of sinning knights and Parsifal himself. In the Albert Hall, Elder played with the spatial effect, putting various choruses in the galleries, and some of the impact of this comes through in the recording – the Trinity Boys Choir sounds suitably celestial from on high, and their earthy counterparts are the Royal Opera Chorus in splendid voice. Throughout, Elder’s grand view also finds room for telling details: a smear of curdled brass and the toxic caress of the woodwinds as Kundry, the arch-seductress, attempts to entrap the only man who could ever save her. Katarina Dalayman’s Kundry is a class act, sensual and sensitively sung. Even when she’s carrying out the nasty work of Tom Fox’s vividly realised baddie, Klingsor, she retains very affecting nobility. Neil Fisher, The Times

Elder’s approach is measured. He takes the first act dangerously slowly, so the dramatic pulse comes close to failing all together, but the beauty of the Halé’s playing and  the perfect blend or texture keeps it going. All this seems justified by their account of the third act, thought, which moves on a gloriously secure dramatic curve from the bleakness of the prelude through an intense performance of the Good Friday music to the radiance of the final grail scene. Andrew Clements, The Guardian

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