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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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