13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Elgar Symphonies Cycle,
This review is from: Elgar - Symphonies Nos 1 & 2; Elgar/Payne - Symphony No 3 (Audio CD)
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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Initial post: 25 Feb 2008 21:10:12 GMT
Colin Fortune says:
This review was written before the excellent and exciting Lyrita re-issue of Boult/LPO Symphonies 1 & 2 from 1968 in much improved CD remastered sound. The Elgar/Payne melange was not even a gleam in its progenitor's eye when these superb performances, reflect Boult's life-time association with the music and are so much more typical of his general approach than the EMI set of five years later. So "Boult" in this review should be seen as referring to the later and generally more sluggish EMI set.
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