Parsifal – Prelude to Act I; Good Friday Music
Der fliegende Holländer – Overture
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude to Act I; Prelude to Act III
Tristan und Isolde – Prelude & Liebestod
Anja Kampe (soprano)
Recorded 23 January and 2 & 4 February 2007 in BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House and in The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: HALLÉ CD HLL 7517
Duration: 73 minutes
This is an excellent collection of orchestral Wagner, the Hallé in splendid form, and Mark Elder displaying his prowess as a conductor of Wagner, all crowned by a recording of lucidity, tangibility and depth.
The disc begins with “Parsifal”: a glowing, subtly articulated and nobly summonsing ‘Prelude’ to Act One which has a real theatrical feel and the potent suggestion that this is a start of a long journey; with the occasional studio-noise allowed to remain, and the even more occasional ‘slip’ in the orchestra, the impression is given – maybe it is actual – that this is a spontaneous non-edited performance; it is certainly rapt, concentrated and compelling. The ‘Good Friday Music’ (from Act Three) adds ceremony, although the ‘quick’ return to music from the ‘Prelude’ risks sameness, although what follows has a wonderfully ‘interior’ feel – this is music-making that has really got inside Wagner’s score.
The tempest of “The Flying Dutchman” blows away any cloistered feelings, a dramatic and dynamic performance, touched by pathos and enlivened by clarity of detail. To the ‘Prelude’ to Act Three of “The Mastersingers” brings sublime contrast – some of the most confiding and heartfelt music Wagner wrote – and is here, again, played as if in the opera house, a large audience enraptured by every note. Elder’s use of portamento, while ‘authentic’, raises the question as to whether this expressive device can be used successfully today without appearing contrived however discreet its use, as here. The Act One ‘Prelude’ (which is often erroneously termed an ‘Overture’ nowadays, but this is not a mistake the Hallé producers make) has weight, dignity and expressive moulding – maybe too much, a lighter, fleeter tread tends to convince more – yet it’s not difficult to be persuaded by the loving embrace and resplendent sonority that Elder and the orchestra bring to it.
Finally the sections that book-end “Tristan und Isolde” – the ‘Prelude’ arriving far too quickly in the wake of Nuremberg revelling – a slow-burn realisation of the opening music that is always sure of its destination and, linked by a few bars courtesy of Engelbert Humperdinck (one of Wagner’s assistants and a fine composer in his own right, not least “Hänsel und Gretel”), the ‘Liebestod’ steals in (text included in the booklet) with Anja Kampe overcoming a hesitant and dubiously-pitched start to soar to a climax that lacks the ultimate in transcendence but is certainly thrillingly inevitable.
This is one of the finest Hallé/Elder releases to date and enters a challenging arena with distinction. If the booklet’s listing of personnel is accurate, then the Hallé’s Second Violins outweigh the Firsts by two (16 to 14) – antiphonal, of course – and the violas play-out to a strength of 14. Certainly the string sound is particular and seems to serve Wagner especially well.