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Elgar: Symphony No 1, Etc / Solti, London PO

Release Date: 06/12/2007 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 000894302   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ELGAR Symphony No. 1 in A?. In the South, “Alassio” George Solti, cond; London PO DECCA 000894302 (58:51)

Kingsway Hall in London was a fine place to be in 1972 when Georg Solti and the London Philharmonic set down this reading of Elgar’s First Symphony. What is it about Elgar and his ability to create these quintessentially English themes, so full of nobility and a kind of tragic power? For many years only the English seemed to have the key to Read more creating the perfect formalized statements in this work, delicately yet assertively set in the opening bars. Mess this up and you have ruined the whole piece, kind of like the trumpeter flubbing the opening bars of Mahler’s Fifth. The line must be expressive but also held back to a certain extent, in order to avoid giving away the emotional content of the Allegro that follows. Too sappy, and you spoil it; too noble, and it feels insincere; too romantic, and you leave yourself no where to go. Boult got this right in his recordings, though he was a much more romantic conductor by nature than he is given credit for. Barbirolli sets the standard for me—he too was romantic, and more heart of sleeve than Boult, but can always persuade you by the convictions of his arguments. Handley also has his strengths, though not the equal of these two.

And, of course, Colin Davis has put his hat in the ring several times, and I have really enjoyed his latest foray on the LSO Live label, though his recording to my ears strays far from the norm in this work. Somehow Davis makes it happen, perhaps more clinical than some other recordings, but at the same time revealing much detail and a fresh point of view about movement relationships and where the true emotional highlights of this work lie. But this Solti recording is as fully convincing as any I have ever heard, and it is nice to have it available in this new re-mastering. Solti himself caused a bit of a stir when it was revealed that he had paid close attention to Elgar’s own recording of the work, and found that the composer’s inclinations were entirely in sympathy with his own, unsentimental and straightforward. Many would say that Solti’s view on music of all types leaned to this kind of interpretation, but never mind—in this case he was at one with the composer and determined to bring the Elgar’s style of music-making back to the canon, limited though the canon was at that time. As regards the opening “motto” theme, Solti doesn’t linger, as Elgar also avoids this problem. He feels determined to set things in motion right away, and the results are electrifying. The Scherzo that follows is fleet and nimble, following the same philosophy as in movement 1. The Adagio is a meltingly gorgeous thing, shorn of man-made sentiment, but still imposing in the sensation of beauty and power that is inherent in the music itself, despite some moments of the “motto” theme of the first movement masquerading here in a teasing, tantalizing manner. The last movement is equally convincing, an excellent conclusion to a superbly crafted interpretation.

In the South has always been one of my favorite rarely heard in-concert pieces, and this 1980 coupling has everything you could want, except maybe that last little degree of intensity that so sets Sinopoli’s DG recording apart from the pack. But at midprice, this reissue, part of Polygram’s “Originals” series, should not be missed, and the sound is glorious. Solti made three of four recordings with the London Phil that I regard as indispensable—some Haydn symphonies, an album of Liszt tone poems, and the Elgar symphonies. One hopes all will return shortly. Now bring on the Second from 1975!

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in A flat major, Op. 55 by Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1907-1908; England 
Date of Recording: 1972 
Length: 48 Minutes 43 Secs. 
In the South, Op. 50 "Alassio" by Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903-1904; England 
Date of Recording: 1979 
Length: 20 Minutes 0 Secs. 

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