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4.1 out of 5 stars9
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 21 April 2013
Following the sad news of Sir Colin's death this week, I decided to listen to this recording as a way of paying homage. This symphony definitely presents to me a painful, but accepting farewell at the end, and I must admit that this performance brought me to tears.

This performance is excellent in every sense. Certainly a difficult piece to pull off, but Sir Colin and the LSO have this music in their blood and it really shows. The complex structure just flows so beautifully, each section flowing into another perfectly. Sir Colin is so well-judged with his rubato and dynamic precision here. Many of the tempi he chooses are very slow indeed, but this does the music good I think. I'm one of the people who prefer a faster Elgar 1, and a slower Elgar 2. These slow tempi really allow the clarity of texture and perfect balance and control of the many orchestral layers to shine. This score has so much in it, therefore it is a challenge for any conductor to allow all the sections to come through in perfect balance, but Sir Colin definitely achieves this. The layers within the strings are particularly outstanding here, I even heard viola pizz parts I never knew existed! This perfection really does allow heavenly sounds in passages such as the inner sections of the first movement, build-ups to the climaxes in the second movement or the subtlely glorious ending of the piece. Such thrill is achieved in the scherzo as well, with the lyrical sections played with a gorgeous grandeur. Also, I don't think I have heard the last few bars done better than I have here. The final string sigh is given so much space, and the gradual diminuendo is extremely moving.

It would be true to say that at the turn of the century, LSO Live, a relatively new label, had not quite mastered the acoustics of the Barbican, and the quality is a tiny bit dry. However, this does not affect the beauty of the performance, and can only maximize the clarity of the texture being brought out by Davis. The LSO give their all, with so much passion, especially in the strings.

A gorgeous recording, and a very moving inclusion of a legendary legacy Sir Colin has left us. RIP.
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on 7 May 2002
At the head of Elgar's Second Symphony (1911) is appended a line from Shelley: 'Rarely, rarely comest thou, Spirit of Delight'. Stephen Johnson, in his characteristically excellent notes for this release, emphasises the fact that this line could be taken to mean very different things. Does Elgar's symphony capture the exuberant 'delight' of a composer at the peak of his powers, or does it dwell on the darker aspects both of Elgar and of a Britain heading for the abyss in 1914?
The answer, of course, is both. This is an emotionally complicated symphony that makes great demands on its interpreters. Sir Colin Davis and the LSO meet almost all of these demands in a performance that benefits greatly from being recorded 'live'. The audience at the premiere of the work in 1911 'sat there like a lot of stuffed pigs', according to Elgar; but it is unlikely that the audience at the Barbican in October 2001 were anything like as reticent (though applause is judiciously omitted after the symphony's sunset coda).
This is a hugely spirited performance, well-played and well-recorded though not always ideally clear on detail. Davis's tempi are sensibly chosen, capturing well the flexibility of a score that is energetic at one moment and reflective the next. He is particularly good, too, at ending movements. The close of the slow movement (a great funeral march) sounds more bleak than it often does, perhaps looking forward to the Elgar/Payne of the Third Symphony. The end of the third movement, after the huge percussion outburst (judged to perfection here) is taken much more slowly than usual, and is made to anticipate the quiet music at the very end of the symphony. And that famous passage itself, where the bounding 'Spirit of Delight' theme returns clad in lush orchestration, is most beautifully and affectingly played.
The LSO, once Elgar's own orchestra, sounds totally committed throughout and produces top-drawer playing. So, too, is Davis, and audibly so, for the recording picks up a great deal of vocal exhortation from the podium. The groans and gasps may disconcert some listeners, but they are part of a 'live' experience and testify to the tremendous spiritedness of the whole enterprise. This version perhaps does not challenge existing interpretative loyalties (Andrew Davis, Edward Downes and John Barbirolli), but at its modest outlay is to be recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 October 2014
I have enjoyed the performances of Elgar’s First and Third Symphony performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis, 1927-2013, but this performance of the Second Symphony, released on the LSO Live label and recorded at the Barbican in October, 2001, was less satisfying. Rather surprisingly, Davis seemed at times almost diffident in his approach and lacking an overarching vision.

The leaflet includes the background and brief musical details of the work by Stephen Johnson and a short biographical portrait of the composer by Andrew Stewart. Information is also provided on the orchestra and the conductor, and a puff on the philosophy of LSO Live which ‘captures exceptional performances from the finest musicians using the latest high-density recording technology. The result? Sensational sound quality and definitive interpretations combined with the energy and emotion that you can only experience live in the concert hall. LSO Live lets everyone, everywhere, feel the excitement in the world’s greatest music.’

The sound quality of the rather arid Barbican space does live up to this claim, to the extent that Davis’s vocalisation is intrusive and gets worse each time that this recording, in particular, is played. No only is Davis disturbing but I found that my concentration was broken as his utterances approached.

The conductor’s tempi throughout are rather very flexible, to put it mildly which prevents the unified nature of this long [here 57’.38”] and complex work being revealed. In the first movement, the ‘malign influence wandering thro’ the summer night in the garden’ as the composer described the score of the central section is wonderfully sinister, as played by the strings and percussion.

The elegiac Larghetto, written before the death of King Edward VII [to whose memory the work is dedicated] and actually associated with the passing of Elgar’s friend, Alfred Rodewald, seems strangely insubstantial before it builds to a climax with an oboe counterpoint that, as Johnson writes, ‘is almost as though a camera had suddenly homed in on one grief-stricken face amid the crowd’s of mourners.’ Not for the first time, Johnson has created a visual image that will remain with me.

The Rondo, at first a dancing scherzo, darkens ominously with the return of the malign theme from the previous movement. The brass and strings are superbly controlled and the orchestra plays this complex score in a suitably hellish manner. The final movement, however, is beautifully controlled, its meandering progress leading to the nostalgic serenity of the closing bars that can, sometimes, create a disappointing impression of incompleteness.

Throughout the work, the orchestral forces play superbly so my less than complete enjoyment is down to the conductor. I have enjoyed a great many of Davis’ recordings and performances over the years but can only give this a 4* rating because of the rather idiosyncratic interpretation and the non-musical asides.
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on 8 February 2012
No one doubts Colin Davis' commitment to the music here. The faint vocal noises from Davis which accompany the recording are evidence of that. But for all his commitment the CD fails to deliver on a sonorously pleasing account of Elgar's Second. It's a pity because it may have been a good performance were we there in person (one senses the the third movement is particularly exciting); but the recording falls on want of volume, reverb and a satisfying balance of orchestral timbres. All this contributes to a sense of want of 'vitality', atmosphere and dynamism. I would suggest the Adrian Boult version as an alternative.
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on 5 October 2014
It's Elgar. Nothing more to be said, except: good version, as you'd expect from Colin Davis & The LSO.
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on 18 August 2008
Rich, warm playing from the LSO does full justice to this (relatively) unloved symphony. The recording is tactile, detailed and has a wonderfully extended soundstage - most enjoyable. My only gripe is Davis (presumably) mumbling and humming his way through the quieter episodes (as he did, although to a less noticeable degree, thourgh the sympony 1 in the same series).
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on 30 May 2007
`Rarely, rarely comest thou, Spirit of Delight' - and rarely, if ever, has this symphony been performed with such a spirit of generosity! No other recorded performance I know allows us to appreciate how vast, in every way, is this magnificent and elusive symphony.

The liberties taken with the score - and there are not a few! - are forgivable. No, not `forgivable' but laudable! Davis, for once, out Barbirolli's Barbirolli in sheer unstinting emotional intensity of expression.

And that is wholly appropriate - Elgar had said that in this symphony he `has shown' himself, made visible his soul.

The scale here is Wagnerian! But the music, rich and eloquent, is sheer Elgar.

The LSO fully support Davis and give their all.

Detailed dissection of phrases and measures is out of place here - dissection is performed only on a dead creature. But this creature is altogether alive! Cut it and it would bleed!

This work was not understood or appreciated in Elgar's lifetime. This despite Elgar's own recorded performances. Elgar's way with this symphony is entirely different from Davis's. In matters of tempi alone Elgar reaches the works coda nearly 10 minuets before Davis! But also in style - Elgar direct and self-effacing in performance.

That may seem odd - when the musical language and psychology are anything but self-effacing or direct. The complexity of the symphony is exemplified in the ambiguity of the Shelley quotation. Is the content of the symphony an expression of a rare moment of delight or of it absence? Or is the answer `Both'?

Maybe, in this case, the composer wasn't, after all, the ideal conductor and advocate of his own composition. Might is not be altogether heresy to suggest that if the work had been presented as Davis presents it here it would more quickly have gained a following?

We are deeply indebted to the performers for this magnificent version!
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on 8 August 2012
Having heard this work I was desperate to get hold of it. An absoutely stunning piece of music. Great price too.
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on 11 February 2011
Not one of Elgar's best. boring & really not a great symphony. would not recommend this unless you are a real Elgar fan and want to add to your Elgar collection otherwise avoid
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