Notes and Editorial Reviews
As good as it gets … marvellous.
I still find it difficult to think of the Hallé Orchestra without thinking of JB because this orchestra was the first, and for some time only, professional orchestra I heard, and I heard it during JB’s final four or five seasons. My young ears were opened to so much music – La Mer, Images, Poulenc’s Double Piano Concerto, Britten’s Violin Concerto, Tchaikovsky 5, VW6 and so much more, the best of all being Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro and the 1st Symphony. As I wrote in my review of the Hallé’s new recording of Elgar 1, Elder has a lot of competition but he is a fine musician who has his own ideas and vision and can hold his own against all comers. Indeed, so good is
Elder with this band that I will repeat what I said after their Prom this year and state that Elder is the best and most significant MD of the Hallé since JB. His Elgar alone proves this.
Introduction and Allegro is a difficult piece to bring off for it never does what is expected of it. It grew from a suggestion of Jaeger’s that Elgar write something for the newly formed London Symphony, perhaps a brilliant scherzo or something of the like. From that suggestion grew this masterpiece which is certainly a scherzo but is also much more. Brilliantly pitting solo quartet with an often hugely divided string section Elgar has created one of the glories of English music. The orchestra pulls out all the stops and Elder directs a performance of intelligence with the "devil of a fugue", as Elgar described the middle section, not used simply as a display piece for all concerned. The Hallé strings don’t have that special sheen which JB brought to them – but then how could it? – but they’re resplendent in their fullness and richness of tone. You cannot afford to be without Barbirolli’s classic account with the Allegri Quartet and the Sinfonia of London (EMI Classics CDM 5672402) but Elder runs JB a close second.
The 2nd Symphony is a turbulent work which wasn’t understood at its première in the wake of the death of the King and the richness, and expansiveness, of the language were not what was expected. Today we can see it as one of Elgar’s greatest works and we can, in the light of his complete output, understand it much better. The first two movements are on the largest scale and contain the most concentrated development. Elder handles the ebb and flow of the argument with an ease which speaks of years of experience, he has got under the skin of the music and knows how to present it to best advantage; the elegiac nature of the slow movement is wrapped in an intensity rarely found in performances of this work. The only blemish is the first movement is at the moment before the recapitulation where Elgar writes a comma for the full orchestra, indicating that we take a deep breath before plunging ahead. Elder, inexplicably, ignores this marking which seriously disrupts the musical thought for this moment’s pause is pregnant with expectation and heightens the experience of what follows. I hope that he will, in future, take note of the comma!
The scherzo is fleet of foot, magnificent playing from the Hallé here, especially the exuberant horns near the end. The finale contains perhaps the most sumptuous string playing in the whole work – just listen to playing of the second subject on its reprise. Glorious. The quiet coda, based on the opening material of the whole work, is a particular highlight of this performance. Elder emphasises the elegiac qualities without lingering in regretfulness.
Apart from the singular blemish in the first movement this is as good as it gets in recorded performances of Elgar’s 2nd Symphony, but don’t throw away your Barbirolli, Boult, Elgar, Haitink, Handley and Thomson recordings, simply add this marvellous performance to your collection and be grateful that there are still Elgarians of this stature making such fine recordings.
-- Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International
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