Elgar - Symphony no.1, Introduction and Allegro
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Cat No: CHSA5181
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 31st March 2017
WorksIntroduction and Allegro for strings, op.47
Symphony no.1 in A flat major, op.55
ArtistsDoric String Quartet
BBC Symphony Orchestra
1Introduction & Allegro, Op. 47 - Moderato -
2Introduction & Allegro, Op. 47 - Allegro -
3Introduction & Allegro, Op. 47 - Fugue: Allegro
4Symphony No. 1 In A-Flat Major, Op. 55 - I. Andante Nobilmente E Semplice, Allegro
5Symphony No. 1 In A-Flat Major, Op. 55 - II. Allegro Molto
6Symphony No. 1 In A-Flat Major, Op. 55 - III. Adagio
7Symphony No. 1 In A-Flat Major, Op. 55 - IV. Lento, Allegro
For a start, Gardner has at his disposal the considerable talents of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble which, when on form as it is here, can match any international competition. This, after all, is an orchestra which in its heyday was conducted by the likes of Toscanini, Walter and Strauss, not to mention such august chief conductors as Boult, Doráti and Boulez. In British repertoire, as in contemporary works, it can be matchless, and so it proves here. The strings, with guest leader Bradley Creswick, prove unusually sensitive and transparent, while the burnished brass really pack a punch in the big tuttis.
Gardner’s reading of the Symphony is a deeply considered one, not always high on drama, but taking an uninterrupted long view of the music’s expressive arch. This approach works brilliantly in a work where the cyclical structure and symmetric pairings of the movements are so crucial. And how marvellous it is to hear a conductor taking Elgar at his word that this is absolute music, without any hidden programme or need for theatricals. Indeed, in his steady-as-she-goes reading of the second movement scherzo, Gardner seems to echo Elgar’s own approach; the busy first section is less demonic than Barenboim, making the later, more lyrical major-key material a closer relation: two sides of the same coin rather than a schizoid contrast. The transition to the glorious Adagio then seems more logical and human that it often does. As ever in Elgar, antiphonally divided violins pay huge dividends, not just in opening up the sound but in passages like the opening of the scherzo where phrases are tossed back and forth between firsts and seconds.
For all its surface Edwardian bluster and self-confidence, this is a work that has undercurrents of unease and insecurity, and Gardner allows these to emerge with total naturalness, helped by the responsiveness of the BBCSO’s players. When the great opening melody reemerges at the Symphony’s peroration, it sounds as completely logical as it would in a Beethoven or Brahms symphony, as well as bringing massive expressive resolution. This is above all a profoundly thoughtful and clearly thought-through performance, but one in which the orchestra as a whole recalls the great British orchestral traditions of yesteryear. As such, it can stand up to any recent competition, as well as such well-regarded classics as Handley, Hickox and even Boult.
Most recordings of the First Symphony, if they offer any coupling, tend to plump for one of the overtures. But Gardner again proves that less can most definitely mean more by opting instead for the Introduction and Allegro for strings, with the BBCSO string section joined by the excellent Doric String Quartet for another deftly-paced and texturally well-defined performance. The varying perspectives are superbly handled by the Chandos team (as they are throughout the disc), the famous ‘Welsh’ theme which first appears on solo viola is exquisitely done, the fugue is dazzling in its clarity,and again the work builds to a glorious and noble climax. It makes a perfect curtain-raiser to the Symphony itself, as well as being a great performance in its own right.
The entirely natural sound-picture (with Surround Sound for those with appropriate equipment) and comprehensive presentation are of Chandos’s highest standards, and we must hope for a similarly insightful account of the Second Symphony in the not-too-distant future!
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