This is a brave stab at breaking down a barrier. There hasn't been a noted Wagner conductor from Britain since Reginald Goodall and before him, Thomas Beecham, which takes us back to the Thirties. I can't even think of an album of "bleeding chunks" from a British orchestra that was led by a native-born conductor. So Mark elder breaks some ground here with this program of overtures and preludes from Parsifal, Meistersinger, Tristan, and the Flying Dutchman. The sound is quite clear and natural, and the Halle musicians are up to the challenge, even if they would never be mistaken for the Berlin Phil. It all comes down to elder, whose strong suit has been English music. I know of no ventures into the classic German repertoire, but he is an expert opera conductor, so there is promise.
He has picked one of the hardest pieces, the Prelude to Act I of Parsifal, as the first item. any number of great conductors in the Wagner tradition have given rapt, intensely reverent readings of this music, but today there is less attempt to spellbind us with a spiritual aura. elder's approach isn't slack, but it is relaxed and flowing. Some attempt is made at creating tension here and there, which is appealing, yet on the whole the reading seems a bit thin. The Good Friday music doesn't come off very well,either. It feels perfunctory and unfelt, not remotely transcendent, as it should.
The overture to Fliegende Hollander is simpler, more cinematic music that plays itself more or less. I don't know why Elder has decided to underplay the stormy opening theme, but by this point in the program, it has sunk in that his approach to all these works is more than a touch cautious. Reversing the two famous Preludes from Die Meistersinger is odd. both are done well enough but without anything eventful. the last item, the standard yoking of the Prelude and Liebestod from Tiran und Isolde, once again music that evokes memories of past greatness, and once again a display of smooth, underwhelming interpretations from Elder. Anja Kampe, the soprano who enters for the Liebestod, has a good voice but seems stretched. Happily, by staying close to her comfort zone she manages a sensitive, appealing reading.
In all, I don't think we are in any danger of welcoming the next great British conductor of Wagner.