Parsifal, an Orchestral Quest [Chandos]

0 of 5 stars

Wagner/Henk de Vlieger
Parsifal, an Orchestral Quest
Tannhäuser – Overture & Venusberg Music [Vienna version]
Lohengrin – Prelude to Act III

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Neeme Järvi

Recorded 18 & 19 August 2009 in Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: August 2010
Duration: 70 minutes



This is the second Chandos release of an arrangement of Wagner’s music by Dutch composer Henk de Vlieger (born 1953). Rather like the previous ‘Ring’ encapsulation, de Vlieger’s selection of the “Parsifal” music is assembled so that it has some progressive logic and is not as unsatisfying as the so-called ‘bleeding chunk’. We get the Prelude, the first Transformation Scene, the flowermaidens, the Good Friday music, the second Transformation Scene and the ending. So, there is much of Parsifal’s own dramatic quest in the orchestral narrative – but odd surely that we do not get the crucial moment when Kundry’s kiss triggers the pure fool’s sudden understanding of Amfortas’s predicament and his transformation into an errant knight. Perhaps there should be some of the restless chromaticism of Klingsor’s music to add a bit of variety.

Those quibbles aside, the arrangement is undeniably skillful and retains the best of the score’s grand and most moving orchestral passages. Much of this is familiar as in the opera these passages do not have much vocal overlay – but there are sections, such as the Flowermaiden one, where to hear the orchestra’s part alone is interesting to those who know the opera well. Unlike de Vlieger’s ‘Ring’ arrangement, where one sometimes wanted the voice as a contrasting instrument, the new perspective always sweeps one along.

Neeme Järvi doesn’t favour a languid and ‘spiritual’ account of this music – in fact at times his interpretation the transformation music verges on a sprint! That probably helps the arrangement which might otherwise seem a bit portentous. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is on fine fettle – relishing the luxuriance of the Flowermaiden scenes and catching the different moods attendant to Parsifal’s two visits to Montsalvat: the first more harmonious and the second decidedly unsettled. The Good Friday music has a good sense of luminosity and spaciousness. Indeed, the engineers have captured the Orchestra in a good acoustic to pick up many felicities of Wagner’s orchestration without the feeling of undue prominence. The clarity of brass and woodwind brings its own dividends; good bells, too!

For some unknown reason the other chunks – for chunks these definitely are – do not seem to work as well. The “Tannhäuser” Overture is well enough played but somehow Järvi’s tempos make this, and, especially, the ballet, rather unremitting. It might work in the theatre with some scenic or choreographic distraction but the performance are earthbound and unremarkable.

The Prelude to Act III of “Lohengrin” is a classic short encore lollipop, here played as such.

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