This fleet, magical performance of Wagner’s Parsifal in the warm generous acoustic of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall enjoyed the highest musical values allowing those present to revel in glorious playing and singing without the distractions of a director’s ‘know it all’ interpretation. From the start of the Prelude the CBSO produced playing with sheen and bite, with warm string sound, punchy brass and some superlative playing from the woodwind soloists. Using the spatial possibilities of the Hall to maximum advantage the off-stage chorus was above and behind the bulk of the audience, and the off-stage brass behind the stage. The tricky integration of the Bells of the Grail Temple was superbly realised. The atmosphere when the composer’s intentions were properly considered and realised was about as perfect as one could imagine.
Andris Nelsons’s Wagner was alert and energetic, yet the sense of architecture and purpose felt unerringly correct. It was also very dramatic and intelligent. The Prelude was an instance, where the initial appearance of the chorale associated with the rituals of the Grail Knights had an indefinable coolness to it, perfectly delineating their spiritually uncertain state. Only in the final pages of the entire score did these themes finally get the full glow as Parsifal takes control and harmony is restored. Likewise Klingsor’s restless motifs were very obvious in the first Act where he does not even appear. In the middle Act there was sensuality with a touch of detachment – again perfectly appropriate.
The cast was extremely fine and balanced. Mihoko Fujimura’s Kundry is well-known – she has performed it at Bayreuth and on other of the world’s great stages. Although she had the score it was rarely used. Her voice is mellow and she has those ringing top-As and -Bs in her armoury as well. The wild, almost two-octave leaps downwards at the end of the second Act were thrilling. She was matched by the generous, lyrical and unforced heldentenor of Burkhard Fritz who delivered a musically satisfying account of the title-role. He sang with intellect and with full appreciation of the import of the text. Wolfgang Bankl’s Klingsor was sappily voiced yet full of malevolence and bile. Paul Whelan was a sonorous Titurel. Best of all was Georg Zeppenfeld’s unusually youthful Gurnemanz, which was tireless, and majestic in its restraint. He looks set to make the role his own as others such as Kurt Moll, Hans Sotin and Matti Salminen have done. British bass-baritone James Rutherford, woefully underused by the companies in his homeland, was a forthright Amfortas; Nelsons took his music at a fair lick but Rutherford rose to the challenge. This Amfortas was indeed a desperate soul.
There were ravishing Flowermaidens, Erica Eloff and Alexandra Steiner intertwining their florid lines beautifully, the garden a place of allure. Strong Knights and Esquires too. Praise also to the CBSO Chorus. What a shame there were no microphones present to broadcast or preserve this special occasion.