We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Two Releases Of Elgar Symphonies To Compare

By Norman Lebrecht on April 19, 2024

Composer Edward Elgar, 1931 (Photo: Herbert Lambert/public domain)
Edward Elgar, 1931 (Photo: Herbert Lambert/public domain)

Elgar: Symphony No. 1 in A-Flat; Symphony No. 2 in E-Flat Major (Hallé)
Elgar: Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major, Op. 55 & Cockaigne Overture, Op 40 “In London Town” (Live) (Oehms)


🎧 Spotify | Spotify

There was a time when I could not get through the month without experiencing Elgar’s music in the flesh. So English, so reassuring, so easily chiming with a young man’s frustrations and aspirations. These days, there is much less Elgar about, and I have no idea where one might turn for instant comfort. The arrival of two Elgar sets in the same week is both encouraging and challenging: might there be two paths to Elgar in a century of cultural retrogression?

Mark Elder conducts both symphonies at the end of a quarter-century as music director of the Halle, an orchestra that owes its DNA to Hans Richter, the Wagnerian who awarded Elgar his place in the pantheon. The Halle, with Elgar in its bones, has breathed with Elder since 1999.

Such familiarity can breed many things but in the music of Elgar it engenders intuition. This is old-school Elgar: hand-baked scones, not supermarket packets. There are times in the first symphony when one might hurry them along a bit. The Adagio is perhaps a tad too Mahler. But, taken all in all, this is serene and superb Elgar — imperious, one might say, if the adjective had not grown negative connotations.

An immediate corrective comes from Alexander Soddy, a British conductor who heads the national theatre in Mannheim, Germany. Soddy is crisp, brisk and propulsive to the point of impatience. He clips three minutes off Elder’s timing in the first movement and takes the Adagio at a dance-floor trot.

The Mannheim orchestra are up for it in every department and the performance is pretty close to thrilling — really and truly invigorating. You may need to hear Mannheim beside Manchester for full contrasting effect but on no account should you miss this German take on an English teatime.

Elder is wonderfully at home in the second symphony, a work the Halle first played under Elgar himself. The Halle brass have a field day and the lower strings will break hearts in the Larghetto. The second symphony needs a lot more love than the first, and gets it here. Search the internet and you may find Kirill Petrenko’s revelatory 2009 performance with the Berlin Philharmonic. This is a symphony for connoisseurs. You’ll soon find you can’t get enough of it.

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, subscribe to Slippedisc.com.


Get the daily arts news straight to your inbox.

Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE.

Share this article
comments powered by Disqus


company logo

Part of

Terms of Service & Privacy Policy
© 2024 | Executive Producer Moses Znaimer