The broadcast premiere of the new recorded-live Deutsche Grammophon recording of Wagner's Parsifal aired today on WQXR (the New York Times-owned classical music station, in case you didn't already know), and what a sterling performance of that all but impossible to get right work it is. Christian Thielemann — an authentic possessor of what I've termed the "Wagner Gene" — is the conductor, and what more can one say other than the man's intuitive understanding and grasp of the Wagnerian language and Wagnerian rhetoric is simply flawless. Thielemann's Wagner readings recall those Wagner readings of the great Wagner Gene possessors of times past — Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Krauss, and Solti — with an added touch of that elegant sense of orchestral color and ensemble that was von Karajan's, and it's all in abundant evidence in this reading of this most difficult and fragile of Wagner's scores. The cast includes Plácido Domingo in the title role (whose typically execrable German diction and declamation is relatively well under control here), Waltraud Meier as Kundry, Franz-Joseph Selig as Gurnemanz, and Falk Struckmann as opera's biggest kvetch, Amfortas, all of whom turn in first-rate performances, Selig most particularly in what is this music-drama's toughest role (and one of the toughest roles in the Wagner canon) to bring off successfully (the role of Kundry a close contender for that title in this music-drama). The only relatively weak link in the cast was Wolfgang Bankl's somewhat limp-wristed and fairly harmless-sounding Klingsor, not at all good things for a depraved and evil sorcerer to be. First-rate as well were the Vienna State Opera Orchestra (a.k.a. the Wiener Philharmoniker) and the Vienna State Opera Chorus, both of which responded to Thielemann's direction as if they were a bespoke fit each for the other.
Though this reading of Parsifal falls somewhat short of the positively uncanny Knappertsbusch 1962 Bayreuth Parsifal — a reading so preternaturally right I'm convinced Knappertsbusch himself could not have replicated it were his very life at stake — that's saying nothing against it, and I, for one, will be adding this recording to my very select library.