Since he took over the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2008, Andris Nelsons has conducted relatively little Elgar. But the Second Symphony is featured prominently on the orchestra's forthcoming European tour, and the Birmingham audience was given a preview of that performance in a concert that juxtaposed it with Wagner - extracts from Parsifal and Lohengrin in which the soloist was Klaus Florian Vogt, the tenor with whom Nelsons has been working in Lohengrin at Bayreuth this summer.
Though it seemed as if Nelsons was coming to Elgar through Wagner - a perfectly valid approach after all, for Wagner's influence on Elgar extended well beyond the obvious link between Parsifal and The Dream of Gerontius - the details of his performance of the symphony, superlatively well played by the CBSO, pointed up more connections with Richard Strauss than anyone else. But it was a reading that for all its vividness and energy had begun with slight uncertainty, with the opening movement a series of brilliantly lit episodes rather than a single, sweeping arc, while elements of the Larghetto weren't quite as effective or tragic as some conductors make them. But the final pair of movements was irresistible, and with refined pianissimo playing from the Birmingham strings, the closing bars were as magical as they should be.
The bleeding chunks of Wagner beforehand had been less convincing. Nelsons began with the Good Friday Music from Parsifal, micromanaging it just a little too obviously for my taste, and he seemed on firmer ground when prefacing the Lohengrin extracts with the prelude to the third act of that opera. Vogt proved to be an utterly secure but a profoundly uninteresting soloist, whose monochrome singing seemed far more concerned with power than with meaning. The Grail Narration from Lohengrin lacked all sense of wonder, the Parsifal extracts were mundane; revealing the grail, it seemed, was no big deal at all.