(Mariinsky, 4 CDs)
When Gergiev first performed Parsifal at the Mariinsky Theatre in the mid-1990s, it had not been heard there for 80 years. That was the start of a St Petersburg Wagner revival that has rubbed off on UK audiences through the Mariinsky’s touring performances.
Like his Mahler, Gergiev’s Wagner is a matter of taste. In this recording, made a year ago in the Mariinsky’s new concert hall, his slow tempo in the opening scenes is not sustained in a way that makes you believe in the music’s pulse. The Mariinsky soloists’ hazy German may be tolerable in the theatre, less so on disc. Against that must be set the lustrous orchestral playing and the ultra-sensitive way in which the voices have been recorded, capturing a serene-and-sumptuous, temple-like ambience in the Grail scenes and a rapturous quality in the Flowermaidens’ music.
Gergiev’s handling of these episodes is unexpectedly beautiful, and he is at home in the nervy drama of Act 2. For the three key roles he has imported non-Russians, and it’s for René Pape’s majestic Gurnemanz that Wagnerites will want this set. Violeta Urmana’s Kundry is unexpectedly voluptuous, while Gary Lehman makes a conscientious Parsifal.
Gergiev fans need not hesitate and, after that problematic start, sceptics should be won over by the way his wonderful orchestra and chorus bring Wagner’s problematic swansong to life.