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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Parsifal (1882)
1. Prelude, act 1 [14:36]
2. Good Friday Music, act 3 [10:19]
Der fliegende Holländer (1843)
3. Overture [10:53]
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868)
4. Prelude, act 3 [6:22]
5. Prelude, act 1 [10:28]
Tristan und Isolde (1865)
6. Prelude [11:34]
7. Liebestod [7:46]
Anja Kampe (soprano) (7)
Hallé/Mark Elder
rec. 23 January, 2, 4 February 2007, BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House; Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. DDD
HALLÉ CD HLL 7517 [72:38]

During his tenure at ENO I heard Mark Elder on a number of occasions, primarily as a splendid Verdi conductor. There was verve and intensity in his readings and I have rated him highly in this repertoire, also on record. Being a good Verdian does not necessarily mean one has to be a good Wagnerian, since the requirements differ greatly. The Verdian must of course find the pulse and the long lines in the music but a lot of the greatness with Verdi is the thrill of the moment within the larger concept. With Wagner it is almost the opposite: there is thrill in the occasional moments but by and large it is the long lines and the seamless development and entwining of the themes that matter most. On this disc Elder shows in no uncertain terms that he is a great Wagnerian as well. Now in his seventh year as Music Director of the Hallé he has superb rapport with the orchestra, which, incidentally will celebrate 150 years next year. Judging from this brand new recording, they are in excellent shape and will, I hope, continue so during the year of celebrations. Britain’s oldest orchestra is definitely among Albion’s top orchestras and has little to fear in comparison with other world-famous bands. There is an admirable homogeneity of sound, both as a total experience and within the different departments. The strings are warm and silvery, the brass is sonorous and punchy and the woodwind blend beautifully.

Most of the items in this programme are slow and inward, taking a lot of shaping of phrases to keep alive. The long prelude to act 1 of Parsifal is an example. I have, since the early 1990s, regarded Karajan’s reading, in the complete recording of the opera on DG, as the touchstone. It still is but Elder runs him very close in his hushed intensity, where the almost 15-minute-long stillness, broken only after six minutes by the three brass fanfares, is hypnotic. The opening of the Good Friday Music is, in Conrad Wilson’s words in the liner-notes, “like a breath of fresh air” but then Wagner returns to the reverential mood.

There is a drastic leap backwards of almost 40 years to Wagner’s earliest masterpiece, Der fliegende Holländer, with its more overtly dramatic music. It is I suppose closer to the Verdian style and its thrill of the moment. Here the waves of the North Sea surge and heave with such force that one can imagine Wagner clinging to the mast in fear during the voyage that temporarily landed him in Norway, where he placed the action of the opera. The playing is absolutely superb.

The two preludes from Die Meistersinger are in reversed order, probably to achieve more contrast for those listening straight through. The meditative prelude to act 3 is beautifully played with great warmth while the one to act 1 has its fair share of jollity with fine woodwind playing. Interestingly, when I compared this reading with the notoriously slow Hans Knappertsbusch in his old Decca recording, Elder takes almost two minutes longer without feeling long-winded.

With the two excerpts from Tristan und Isolde, the beginning and the end, we are back with those long seamless phrases. There are waves in this prelude too, but they are more gentle and hardly frightening. Elder builds the music to an impressive climax before it dies away to the concluding two pizzicato notes before the curtain rises.

The Liebestod reveals that Anja Kampe, who is fast becoming a leading dramatic soprano, has a bright, youthful voice, warm and beautiful but with some sharp edges on certain forte notes. She manages the climax on in des Welt-Atems brilliantly however and sings the final Höchste Lust! on a beautiful diminuendo. I hope to hear more from her.

Admirers of Hallé or Mark Elder or Wagner, or all three, shouldn’t hesitate. This is an excellent disc in splendid sound, with fine liner-notes, sung texts included and a very good soprano as an extra bonus. Retailing at around £10 it shouldn’t dig too deep a hole the music-lover’s pocket.

Göran Forsling


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