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Elgar - Symphonies Nos 1 & 2; Elgar/Payne - Symphony No 3
Elgar - Symphonies Nos 1 & 2; Elgar/Payne - Symphony No 3
Price: £14.15

14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Elgar Symphonies Cycle, 20 Mar. 2007
The major interest in the Payne elaborations, the very few recordings of such a high profile completion, the element of hypothesis over the intended and the unwritten, and the window this offers on the composer and his time, all make it interesting that this recording has not inspired greater consumer response.

This review, of the Elgar 3 actually in the box set of all three symphonies, every one recommended, can only praise this handsomely recorded, produced, and presented LSO in-house issue. As "own label" numbers increase and gain approval, LSO is at the forefront given these standards (as with the Haitink Beethoven cycle, and the Davis Dream of Gerontius). Budget buying has always been an art, but gems do lurk amongst the commendable Naxos and even the variable to abysmal Regis and Brilliant reissues/rehashes. The LSO label brings a quality format, easily digested and navigable, with English-French-German translations and no meagreness in the authoritative, informed and informing booklet notes. (I found 2 spelling errors.) The recording quality (especially given the live element) deserves applause for engineer Tony Faulkner. Only in the Elgar 2 in the box set (not the Elgar 3 discussed here) is there the strangest warbling, seemingly of an audience member, which one would think could have been engineered or edited out from two sessions-worth of material.

In Elgar 3 there are no such sounds, indeed the recording is without any "white noise" or intrusive elements whatsoever, maintaining excellent quality throughout. What is in evidence is a great volume range, for which Davis and the LSO should be credited. Whilst it is frustrating to fiddle volumes to hear the quietest parts (only to be blasted from the room at the next crescendo), it also affirms the quality of music and playing, and means that the orchestra did it's job perfectly. See, noisy motorbikes and ringtones are the true frustrations of ear-straining sound - the very purpose and beauty of music-making is to give that range to generate all the emotive expression available, and this the LSO do excellently. If I strain at the faintest pianissimo, it means I am listening and being drawn in and have not switched off from the music. At no point, despite working, moving around, thinking, did I switch off from this recording. And in balance, the forte and fortissimo markings are loud, aggressive and abrasive where necessary, without being overly so, and without straining the cohesion of the instrumental sound as a whole. Across the spectrum, the balance is maintained, and the sound (again to the engineer's credit) is excellent. Just listen to the start of the final movement: the brass is fabulous, forcefully presenting itself to the fore without being brash or screeching, and the lovely riding rhythm that it roles into is beautifully Elgarian and is not derailed by the return of the loud brass call. The opening motif of the first movement has a little something of the Prokofiev Montagues & Capulets about it to my ear (Mr Prokofiev?), and the masculinity (sadly mispelt in the booklet) is evident; as is the feminity of the second motif that Johnson's notes direct us to. This overlapping of forceful and sweetly lyrical passages encapsulates, for me, the original orthodox Elgarian element of symphony 3.

The quasi mission statement on the back of the booklet claims "LSO Live captures exceptional performances from the finest musicians...", and this is certainly one such performance, and these are certainly on this evidence and in this music such musicians. If Davis is the greatest Elgarian living, then his position is greatly enhanced by the consummate professionalism and the clarity of Elgarian sound that the LSO generates. In an interesting parallel, baroque/classical listening has been greatly enriched by period-ensembles playing "native" composers, like Il Giardino Armonico for Italian concerti, Freiburg Barockorchester for German overtures, and Simphonie Marais for French ballet. Similarly, my interest in more modern Russian music has been reinvigorated by moving from decades of European orchestras to the recent interpretations of Russian state symphonies and choirs. The "native" element often enhances the listening experience - so, in this age of touring performing units and "orchestra on tour", rather than resident monolyths, it would be worth sending the LSO worldwide to provide audiences with a "native" Elgarian sound as ravishing and luxuriant as this.

Finally, it remains to ask why there are no (and to demand) comparisons of this LSO Elgar 3 with the Bournemouth SO on Naxos, which took a Penguin Guide Rosette and 3 stars, a Choc de Musique, and Gramophone Editor's Choice and CD of the Month. If that Bournemouth SO recording is the benchmark, does this replace it? Elgarian or no, I am certainly investigating both, not really to determine a better, but more to enjoy such a fabulous piece being played so well twice over. I doubt one would emerge definitive over the other, for in an elaborated piece with sounds of orthodox Elgar, new dimension Elgar, and Payne himself, interpretation is everything. One thing is certain, the benchmark is with these two, both budget and both outstanding issues. Commendations to the industry-scorned "budgeteers" at Naxos and LSO Live for giving themselves an unassailable headstart over the full-price giants.

Perhaps others would like to compare and contrast the Naxos and LSO Elgar 3? In the meantime, anyone pondering an Elgar aquisition need not hesitate over the LSO set of all 3 symphonies. And that's not at budget level - for me on symphonies this beats the Boult, Sargent, etc, boxed sets, which only retain their merit for the inclusion of much other Elgar material. I believe we still await a Mark Elder & Halle issue of Elgar 3, and that would a) be welcome comparison, and b) be the only likely foreseeable contender to these symphonies. Budget buyers relish another gem; full-pricers, relish a great recording and the change in your pocket.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 25, 2008 9:10 PM GMT


Vivaldi : Gloria & Pergolesi : Stabat Mater
Vivaldi : Gloria & Pergolesi : Stabat Mater

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Period Instruments & Great Performance, 20 Mar. 2007
To correct the erroneous review below, this Warner Elatus reissue of an original Teldec recording IS in fact made using PERIOD instruments and period pitch (Hz=415), with Concentus Musicus Wien, Nicolaus Harnoncourt's excellent original and pioneering period band. It IS a fine recording, and the pairing is excellent, and surprisingly uncommon given the popularity of the two pieces. However, this is not a rich orchestral sound in modern terms, as the previous reviewer wrongly suggests. What should be noted is that it is full-orchestral scoring, rather than the "chamber"-style smaller instrumental forces often used in authentic HIP (Historically Informed Performance) recordings.

This performance is neither thin on scoring or forces, or thin on singing, style, and commitment. It is a highly recommended recording on PERIOD instruments, especially if you are happy to pair the popular Vivaldi piece with the popular Pergolesi piece, both admirably done. Both pieces can perhaps be beaten, but not by much and not on the same disc. Indeed, the only thing to be said against this disc stems from this pairing: just bear in mind that a Vivaldi Gloria paired with lesser-known (but perhaps no less worthy) Vivaldi sacred music, or a Pergolesi Stabat paired with lesser-known (but definitely no less worthy) Pergolesi, just might reveal another of these composers' sacred gems to you in the "filler" material. It may be that, especially if you come to either composer solely through these popular works, a "pure" single-composer recording might introduce you to more Vivaldi on the back of the Gloria, or likewise for Pergolesi, and discover for you the further glories of their respective sacred output. My recommendation, though, would be to get this recording for the sheer joy of it; then buy a different Pergolesi Stabat to hear it paired "en situation" with more Pergolesi (e.g. his Salve Regina or Serva Pedrona); and then buy a different Vivaldi Gloria paired with other Vivaldi to give you the feel for that. This means collecting a little more, expending a little more, and overlapping - but if any Baroque pieces should be collected in multiple, these are they.

If you are interested in more Vivaldi, try Fabio Biondi's recording of his Stabat Mater (with the excellent countertenor David Daniels on Virgin) or his Motets (also Virgin, paired in a Virgin Veritas 2cd with the excellent Galuppi motets); and for the complete Vivaldi sacred music, see Robert King's 11cd box-set on Hyperion. One must also recommend the ongoing Opus111/Naive label's Vivaldi pilgrimage, which is producing outstanding results across the whole spectrum of Vivaldi's output.

For more Pergolesi (as a serious Pergolesi fan I recommend these highly), try the amazing Marian Vespers (with Edward Higginbotham on Erato), and (if you can find it) the excellent Serva Pedrona (with James Bowman on Meridian). I also thoroughly recommend Emma Kirkby's recording of the Stabat Mater (with James Bowman, Christopher Hogwood, and Academy of Ancient Music, mid-price on Decca); and the Alessandrini recording of the Stabat with the excellent Sara Mingardo (budget-price on Naive catalogue-version). Both of those are excellent and strong Stabat recordings, both received accolades (the Alessandrini many awards), and both better Harnoncourt's (it's the Gloria on this Elatus disc under review that is stronger than the Stabat). The Decca disc has the obvious bonus of the outstandingly clear and beautiful Kirkby soprano; the Alessandrini has the interesting bonus of being paired with a Scarlatti Stabat Mater which allows you to compare Stabat compositions of the period. All three (Decca, Naive, and this Elatus) are well recommended.

So, for the Pergolesi/Vivaldi newcomers, this is an excellent starting point, providing the most popular of these composers' sacred output (some might argue the best, but I say only when you've heard and considered the other gems). For those wanting just the Vivaldi Gloria and the Pergolesi Stabat, this is an obvious choice, and you should go ahead with confidence as both of the works are very well recorded and presented here, in strong period-instrument HIP renditions. For those, like this reviewer, with a "penchant for Pergolesi" this is a Stabat worth possessing, as much to hear Harnoncourt, one of the fathers of "period", tackle it as for any pairing or performance-related issue. And for those well versed in Vivaldi, Pergolesi, or both, this is a recording for the curious and for the completist. It is also well worth listening to in comparison/contrast with alternative recordings of either piece. There will doubtless be dissenters, music is a personal and opinion-based beast; you are therefore invited to buy, try and dissent, for the enjoyment is in the listening, and there is much enjoyment here.

One last note: one might consider this cd an excellent pairing of two cornerstones to have to hand when you just want these staples of the genre, thereby saving tracking through box-sets and cd numbers to hear one or the other of these pieces. I treat mine very much like an opera highlights cd, using it to hear the principal pieces without having to open up and scroll through the entire opera, wearing out the opera cds in the process!

NB: all recordings and suggestions offered in this review are PERIOD instrument/pitch HIP recordings. If you prefer modern instruments, none of the above may appeal to you - though you might like to dip a toe??? In which case you will find least offence here.


Elgar/Payne - Symphony No 3 (LSO Davis)
Elgar/Payne - Symphony No 3 (LSO Davis)
Price: £6.83

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unfinished, perhaps never Unbeatable, but Undeniably excellent listening, 28 Jan. 2007
The major interest in the Payne elaborations, the very few recordings of such a high profile completion, the element of hypothesis over the intended and the unwritten, and the window this offers on the composer and his time, all make it interesting that this recording has not inspired greater consumer response.

This review, of the Elgar 3 actually in the box set of all three symphonies, every one recommended, can only praise this handsomely recorded, produced, and presented LSO in-house issue. As "own label" numbers increase and gain approval, LSO is at the forefront given these standards (as with the Haitink Beethoven cycle, and the Davis Dream of Gerontius). Budget buying has always been an art, but gems do lurk amongst the commendable Naxos and even the variable to abysmal Regis and Brilliant reissues/rehashes. The LSO label brings a quality format, easily digested and navigable, with English-French-German translations and no meagreness in the authoritative, informed and informing booklet notes. (I found 2 spelling errors.) The recording quality (especially given the live element) deserves applause for engineer Tony Faulkner. Only in the Elgar 2 in the box set (not the Elgar 3 discussed here) is there the strangest warbling, seemingly of an audience member, which one would think could have been engineered or edited out from two sessions-worth of material.

In Elgar 3 there are no such sounds, indeed the recording is without any "white noise" or intrusive elements whatsoever, maintaining excellent quality throughout. What is in evidence is a great volume range, for which Davis and the LSO should be credited. Whilst it is frustrating to fiddle volumes to hear the quietest parts (only to be blasted from the room at the next crescendo), it also affirms the quality of music and playing, and means that the orchestra did it's job perfectly. See, noisy motorbikes and ringtones are the true frustrations of ear-straining sound - the very purpose and beauty of music-making is to give that range to generate all the emotive expression available, and this the LSO do excellently. If I strain at the faintest pianissimo, it means I am listening and being drawn in and have not switched off from the music. At no point, despite working, moving around, thinking, did I switch off from this recording. And in balance, the forte and fortissimo markings are loud, aggressive and abrasive where necessary, without being overly so, and without straining the cohesion of the instrumental sound as a whole. Across the spectrum, the balance is maintained, and the sound (again to the engineer's credit) is excellent. Just listen to the start of the final movement: the brass is fabulous, forcefully presenting itself to the fore without being brash or screeching, and the lovely riding rhythm that it roles into is beautifully Elgarian and is not derailed by the return of the loud brass call. The opening motif of the first movement has a little something of the Prokofiev Montagues & Capulets about it to my ear (Mr Prokofiev?), and the masculinity (sadly mispelt in the booklet) is evident; as is the feminity of the second motif that Johnson's notes direct us to. This overlapping of forceful and sweetly lyrical passages encapsulates, for me, the original orthodox Elgarian element of symphony 3.

The quasi mission statement on the back of the booklet claims "LSO Live captures exceptional performances from the finest musicians...", and this is certainly one such performance, and these are certainly on this evidence and in this music such musicians. If Davis is the greatest Elgarian living, then his position is greatly enhanced by the consummate professionalism and the clarity of Elgarian sound that the LSO generates. In an interesting parallel, baroque/classical listening has been greatly enriched by period-ensembles playing "native" composers, like Il Giardino Armonico for Italian concerti, Freiburg Barockorchester for German overtures, and Simphonie Marais for French ballet. Similarly, my interest in more modern Russian music has been reinvigorated by moving from decades of European orchestras to the recent interpretations of Russian state symphonies and choirs. The "native" element often enhances the listening experience - so, in this age of touring performing units and "orchestra on tour", rather than resident monolyths, it would be worth sending the LSO worldwide to provide audiences with a "native" Elgarian sound as ravishing and luxuriant as this.

Finally, it remains to ask why there are no (and to demand) comparisons of this LSO Elgar 3 with the Bournemouth SO on Naxos, which took a Penguin Guide Rosette and 3 stars, a Choc de Musique, and Gramophone Editor's Choice and CD of the Month. If that Bournemouth SO recording is the benchmark, does this replace it? Elgarian or no, I am certainly investigating both, not really to determine a better, but more to enjoy such a fabulous piece being played so well twice over. I doubt one would emerge definitive over the other, for in an elaborated piece with sounds of orthodox Elgar, new dimension Elgar, and Payne himself, interpretation is everything. One thing is certain, the benchmark is with these two, both budget and both outstanding issues. Commendations to the industry-scorned "budgeteers" at Naxos and LSO Live for giving themselves an unassailable headstart over the full-price giants.

Perhaps others would like to compare and contrast the Naxos and LSO Elgar 3? In the meantime, anyone pondering an Elgar aquisition need not hesitate over the LSO set of all 3 symphonies. And that's not at budget level - for me on symphonies this beats the Boult, Sargent, etc, boxed sets, which only retain their merit for the inclusion of much other Elgar material. I believe we still await a Mark Elder & Halle issue of Elgar 3, and that would a) be welcome comparison, and b) be the only likely foreseeable contender to these symphonies. Budget buyers relish another gem; full-pricers, relish a great recording and the change in your pocket.


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