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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It just fails to reach the heights achieved by their earlier Elgar recording., 20 Aug. 2014
This review is from: Elgar: Symphony No. 1 [Sakari Oramo, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra] [BIS: BIS1939] (Audio CD)
It use to be said that English music does not travel abroad very well, I think that Sakari Oramo’s recent masterly recording of Elgar’s Second Symphony has disproved that theory once and for all! Turning our attention to Oramo’s recording of the First, in someways the more difficult work of the two, and for me he doesn’t manage to achieve the level of excellence found in his recording of the Second.
For me, my bench mark when it comes to the Elgar symphonies, is the recording Adrian Boult made with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the late 1960’s and which was released on Lyrita, one which I have always treasured both on vinyl and CD. This treasured recording is the one that all subsequent recordings, including Handley, Solti, Davis and Hurst, have been compared with, and found wanting, and this new recording by Oramo is no different.
I find Oramo’s tempos a bit on the slow side, he is nearly four minutes slower than Boult over all, this puts him on a par with Handley, although I must say that Oramo does sound more driven than Handley’s recording, but both are quicker than Davis and the LSO. It is not that I prefer quicker tempos, the composers own recording clocks in at only 46:30, and I still prefer Boult’s more measured approach. One of the main problems for me is the way that Sakari Oramo dramatically switches tempo between themes within a movement. This is most prevalent in the second movement Allegro molto, here Oramo begins quite briskly but when the following theme enters he applies the breaks too much, it’s just too slow, and it just doesn’t work! Oramo is not the first conductor to do this, and I dare say he will not be the last. There are other occasions where he under emphasises certain passages, you sit there waiting for something to happen, but the moment has gone before you realise it.
The playing of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, as in their recording of the Second, is excellent, the strings and the harp especially, they play with real belief in the music, I just feel that the interpretation is a bit lacking. The hybrid SACD sound is beautifully crisp and well balanced, allowing you to hear every nuance of the orchestral playing, it is certainly the best recorded version I have heard, it just fails to reach the heights achieved by their earlier Elgar recording.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Technically superb, but some interpretative points do not work for me, and thus my recommendation is qualified., 30 July 2014
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D. S. CROWE "Music Lover" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Elgar: Symphony No. 1 [Sakari Oramo, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra] [BIS: BIS1939] (Audio CD)
I had nothing but praise for the brisk and vibrant reading of Elgar's Second Symphony which preceded this release some months ago. While I have enjoyed this new release of the First in many respects, my enthusiasm is somewhat more tempered than it was for the Second.
The recording is excellent-at times almost too excellent!-and the playing is superb, though the orchestra is balanced differently from the earlier release and at times seems to lack a little weight.
Some pp sections are SO quiet as to be almost inaudible particularly in the Adagio, and when Elgar adopts a more chamber like scoring, Oramo really highlights this with the recording giving us a very close sound picture at these points.

However, this is not the cause of my reservations. Oramo takes a medium paced approach to the opening Nobilmente March but then whips up the tempo in a very exciting manner, with brilliant execution from his Stockholm Players and he makes this movement sound very modern indeed-a triumph.

Things do not go so well in the Second. The opening theme and March blaze away at a fast tempo, but when Elgar introduces the dancing picaresque second subject in the Major Key, Oramo slows down markedly-and for me this does not work. Worse still, when the second theme returns in the Full Orchestra-a glorious moment-Oramo makes as a sudden rallentando-quite extraordinary!- and instead of rushing ahead as Elgar intends, he slows the whole proceedings down markedly. I don't like it-end of!!

The Adagio is beautiful without becoming mawkish or lugubrious, with exquisite string tone, and when Elgar finally introduces THE phrase in the coda-you know the one I mean-it is so quiet I had to strain to hear it. Very effective if a touch too extreme I feel!

The Finale is generally good but Oramo glosses over certain key moments-and the coda does not blaze with the grand sonority that others conjure up, though it is impressive.
So overall, enjoyable enough but with some interpretative points that don't work for me.

The Cockaigne filler is lively, cheery and very well played though the brass is restrained compared to other readings and the climax lacks a little weight.
Oramo makes no allowance for Elgar's programme-he has no build up to encountering the mighty brass of the military band but on both occasions blasts through it at breakneck speed-it is more like a cavalry charge than a mounted band! The organ in the finale IS audible-but lacks bass pedal reverberation hence my comment earlier about lack of weight!

My favourite First Symphony recording remains the late Sir Colin Davis with Dresden Staatskapelle, but any number of recordings by Boult, the famous Barbirolli, the brilliant Solti, The Elder and the Sinopoli all make better alternatives, as does a most underrated Mackerras with the LSO on Argo, which has a superb Cockaigne also as its filler.

Others may feel that the, to me, contentious and misjudged interpretative points work better than I do, and technically it is superb and in SACD too, so recommended with raised eyebrows. 4 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More superb Elgar from the wonderful Sakari Oramo - wonderful recording from BIS [even better ..., 7 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: Elgar: Symphony No. 1 [Sakari Oramo, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra] [BIS: BIS1939] (Audio CD)
More superb Elgar from the wonderful Sakari Oramo - wonderful recording from BIS [even better than the second symphony]. If you want to hear what the composer wrote then this Elgar first is what you should have. It's up there
with the best of the rest - but with this recording quality and this Conductor frankly for any collection this is a must have.

Simply superb.
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