While this completion of Elgar's manuscript sketches may not be a masterpiece and is, to a large extent, the fruits of "educated guesswork and intuition" there is much in it which is redolent of genuine Elgarian inspiration and it would be ungrateful in the extreme to be snarky about Anthony Payne's labour of love. He modestly calls it an elaboration, a term taken to interpretative limits by his borrowing a haunting, repeated theme from the "The Wagon Passes" in "The Nursery Suite" which Elgar had recently completed before embarking on the symphony.
The test is how much of this music is moving and memorable and returning to this disc after an interval of some ten years I was struck by how much of it I recalled and was newly moved by. Despite the inevitable impression of the symphony lacking some cohesion, there are some uniquely beautiful fragments in each movement such as the angular, muscular first subject which opens the symphony and the equally typical, melting second subject with its falling intervals. The Scherzo has a delicate, crepuscular Spanish atmosphere reminding us that Elgar had an affinity with Latin sensuousness to complement his bristly British sturdiness. Best of all, I think is the Adagio featuring a noble brass theme combined with a Mahlerian breadth and tenderness. I concur with other commentators that the last movement is a mite ramshackle; a rumbustious martial tune melds awkwardly into a rather repetitive development before the allegro marches into a more reflective, "new, visionary world".
The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays well under Andrew Davis although I was conscious that they made more of the dreamier moments than those which called for more fire and passion. I have not yet heard Paul Daniel's account for Naxos and wonder if that has more spark, but find much to enjoy and admire in this very welcome and courageous performance.