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Classical review: Elder and the Halle deliver a majestic Parsifal, the Signum and Hadland excel in Brahms

Prom 57 - Parsifal, Choruses of the ROH, Trinity, Halle Orchestra/Elder (****)PCM 10 – Signum Quartet, Hadland (*****)

The opera which Wagner described as his “farewell to the world” has stage-directions requiring baronial halls, mountains, forests, and an ever-changing kaleidoscope of different forms of light. At the Royal Albert Hall it got the usual minimal stage-effects, with its hero breaking an invisible bow over his knee, and its villain Klingsor miming the magic spear he was to hurl at a climactic moment. Yet this performance with the Halle under Mark Elder’s direction was as vividly dramatic as anything in the opera house – indeed, its best effect could not have been achieved at Covent Garden itself.

When John Tomlinson’s soothsaying Guernemanz and Lars Cleveman’s naïve young Parsifal made their ritual journey into the castle of the Grail, the majestic sound, enriched by electronic bells, came at us from every angle, with the Youths singing from somewhere half way up the auditorium, to be answered by boy trebles (representing the Knights) singing down from the gods. This overwhelming yet ethereal moment was of a piece with what Elder, his orchestra, the Royal Opera Chorus, and the youth choirs of Trinity and the Halle achieved time and again, making the five-hour marathon feel like a flight on a magic carpet.

This success was thanks also to two great Wagnerians. John Tomlinson’s Guernemanz commanded the stage with massive authority, while Katarina Dalayman’s suicidal femme-fatale Kundry seemed to draw on reserves of power coming from deep within. All of which posed problems for Cleveman, whose sound seemed to diminish as the evening went on; possessing no brilliance or beauty, it seriously weakened the closing scene over which he had theoretically to preside. Detlef Roth’s Amfortas excelled however, as did Reinhard Hagen as his father Titurel. But the chief honours of the evening belonged to the orchestra, which proved equal to all Wagner’s challenges.

Chamber Prom 5 opened with the Proms premiere - 75 years after its composition - of Elizabeth Maconchy’s “String Quartet No 3”. Owing more to the influence of Bartok than to that of her tutor Ralph Vaughan Williams, its vibrant eloquence was beautifully rendered by the Signum Quartet, who were then joined by Christian Ihle Hadland for a stunning account of Brahms’s “Piano Quintet in F minor”. Just beginning to make his mark outside his native Norway, this 30-year-old pianist is now a guarantor of beauty with his pearlised, feline touch.