Elgar: Symphony No. 2
Praise be to non-British conductors prepared to tell the world there’s nothing provincial or narrowly national about Elgar. Finn Sakari Oramo, long a champion of British music, now spreads the word in Stockholm, with fascinating results.
His Second Symphony is so much more about the darkness and the introspection than the optimistic side of Sir Edward that it can’t be considered the whole story: why, for example, such plodding in what ought to be the exuberant, if not hypermanic, outer charges of the first movement? But when in that same movement it comes to what Elgar called ‘a malign influence wandering thro’ a summer garden at night’, no one brings out textures and the lower-instrumental throb better (have you ever heard the veiled cellos’ pizzicatos as the weird theme gets underway come through so clearly? I haven’t).
Stockholm strings may not sound very full or burnished at the fuller end – though they do build the great arcs leading to the consoling climax after the slow-movement funeral march – but are supreme in atmospheric pianissimos and allow all the wind and brass detail to come through. That makes for a creepy-incisive scherzo, with the dry but truthful recording playing its part in the bass impact of the climactic juggernaut. It’s typical of the thoughtful Oramo, too, that he chooses to fill the rest of the disc with veiled, tender string elegies to complement the sunset Symphony rather than any pomp and circumstance (not that Elgar doesn’t do that equally well, too). On, then, Oramo and Stockholmers, to Vaughan Williams.