on 22 November 2004
Elgar's two symphonies are good example of interpretations of music being stuck thanks to the strange British conservatism. If you listen to 10 recordings of these symphonies by 10 British conductors, they all sound more or less same in terms of interpretation: controlled, noble, beautiful Elgarian rubato and so on.
But in my opinion Elgar's Symphony 1 and 2 require as much emotional capacity and dynamic range as Mahler symphonies. There is nothing aristocratic about these works, they are about violent struggle between evil and good, and man's deepest longing for the world beyond this world.
Most of the British conductors choose to ignore the fact that Elgar's music is highly influenced by Wagner's, not only by his musical language and orchestration but by his sense of creating intense and enormous drama.
I recommend non British conductors for those who want something more than nobility and control. Is's an enigma that Sinopolli's version is not mentioned even by Penguin Guide. He presents both symphonies in much larger scale in terms of tempo, dynamic ranges and emotional charge without losing coherance of the whole. And the very spacious slow movements, so beautiful and serene! He is also one of the few conductors who slow down tempo to introduce the beautiful phrase before the finale of first symphony, the most beautiful music Elgar ever wrote.
To those who can not stand Sinopoli's flexible tempi, I'll recommend very sucessful Slatkin's recording or highly individual Barenboim version. It's a great shame that no great Russian conductors hadn't record Elgar symphonies.
on 28 September 2007
I concur in all respects with the comments of "a music fan", as far as Symphony 2 is concerned (I don't have Sym 1 - I bought the 2nd when it first appeared on its own). As much as I love the sounds Elgar makes, his symphonies never convinced me as symphonic wholes until I heard this recording. Without the score in front of me I have no idea whether Sinopoli is adhering to marked tempi and the composer's instructions, but for the first time in my experience (aside from a superb live performance I heard from Andrew Davis with the Toronto Symphony back in the 70s) Symphony 2 comes across as more than a losely-connected series of events. This is certainly a warm, romantic reading but it doesn't wallow. English conductors tend to project Elgar's bluff, almost soldierly qualities as if all his music is an extension of the Pomp and Circumstance marches (I'm familiar with recordings of both symphonies from those by Elgar himself, through Barbirolli, Boult, Andrew Davis to Vernon Handley). Sinopoli gives us a very different, more introspective view. The notes with my version are illuminating. The Larghetto of Symphony 2 was composed long before the death of Edward VII. In fact the work owes far more to Elgar's trip to Venice than any Edwardian nostalgia, the swirling opening of the third movement inspired by pigeons in Piazza San Marco.
Sound is excellent, and the Philharmonia play like angels.
If you've ever harboured the sneaking suspicion that reviews in the English music press are manifestations of entrenched bias and preference, try this recording on for size. You might also look for the Zukerman/Barenboim Elgar V.C., far preferable in my opinion than any of the Kennedy versions.
Incidentally, "a music fan", there was a version of Elgar 2 by Svetlanov, I believe with a Russian orchestra, back in the days of vinyl. It received somewhat tepid reviews from the usual magazines, surprise, surprise.
As well as the symphonies, this generous 2-disc package includes In the South, and Pomp and Circumstance Nos. 1 & 4, all played beautifully by the Philharmonia and recorded in typically clear and transparent DG sound.
These accounts of the symphonies are spacious and detailed, and deserve to be much better known. I can only think they have been a victim of the idea that only British conductors are approved for Elgar. Happily, this quaint idea now seems to be changing at last, so perhaps these performances will take the place they deserve, right up there with the more famous accounts.