Epic Wagner in Amsterdam

An intense, epic live performance of Wagner's final opera Parsifal
 beautifully performed by a brilliant cast on top form.

Composer: Wagner
Repertoire:  Parsifal

Artists: Soloists, State Male Choir ‘Latvija’, Netherlands Radio Choir and Philharmonic Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden
Rating:  5/5
Genre: Opera
Label: Challenge Classics CC72519

The Music: When the score of Wagner’s final opera first appeared, some thought it was a backward step for the avant-garde composer. ‘It’s like bad Massenet’ was one sniffy comment, meaning ‘it’s too sumptuous, too specious.’ Time has proved those comments unjustified, and Parsifal has never remained out of performance.

The Performance: It’s hard to describe this live recording without descending into hyperbole. The legendary acoustics of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw give an almost mystical glow to the playing of the orchestra, and conductor Jaap van Zweden retains magisterial control over the epic sweep of the piece. A uniformly excellent cast are on top form too: Klaus Florian Vogt (Parsifal) is powerful, shining and easy of voice, and he’s matched by Katarina Dalayman (Kundry) on fiery form and the superb Robert Holl (Gurnemanz).

The Verdict: Wagner performances don’t often come more intense, epic, or beautiful than this. And along with the 4 CD set, there’s an 80-minute DVD of highlights from the concert too, which gives a vivid sense of the occasion.

Why You’ll Love This

•    Combined Choirs

When Parsifal witnesses the unveiling of the holy grail at the end of Act 1, Wagner writes for enormous choral forces to create a sense of slow, ecstatic ritual. The choirs produce an extraordinarily warm, flexible and well-balanced sound which does the job perfectly.

•    Vivid Video

Although this is a concert performance, all the singers perform from memory and interact with each other on stage during their long scenes. The DVD of highlights thus adds real value to the boxed set.

•    Crisis Kiss

Act 2 builds to a crisis when Kundry kisses Parsifal. Van Zweden pushes the violins to rush headlong through their anguished chromatic descending scales to create a maelstrom of emotion. It’s terrific stuff.