It is perhaps fitting that the conductor should be the focus of attention in this latest recording of "Parsifal," the Wagnerian opera in which, more than any other, the orchestra carries the burden of the argument.Happily James Levine does not disappoint. As he has emulated Toscanini so many times in the past, so he has here, for one of the slowest, most majestic "Parsifals" on rec-ord. Yet, as with that conductor's performances, he proves alive to the music's dramatic import as well as its spiritual dimension.

Thus on the one hand there is the weight and breadth of the Prelude, Grail Scene and Good Friday Spell, on the other the menace of Kling-sor's garden, undercutting the languorous seductiveness of the Flower Maidens Scene. Only occasionally do things seem slow purely for the sake of being slow, for example the ethereal music following Parsifal's "Nur eine Waffe taugt," which never really radiates fulfillment, as with Knap-pertsbusch, Karajan or even Solti.

As with the first of these, this performance profits additionally from the unique ambiance of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the orchestra in particular boasting a distinctive resonance, most pronounced in the graininess of the brass. From both a technical and an interpretive standpoint it may lack the special glow of the Knappertsbusch set (also on Philips), not to mention its emotional