Elgar; Berlioz

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar; Berlioz
LABELS: Profil Hanssler
ALBUM TITLE: Elgar; Berlioz
WORKS: Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Staatskapelle Dresden/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: CD PH 05040
It has never really been true that only British orchestras know how to play Elgar, whose genius was after all readily recognized by Richard Strauss and expounded by Hans Richter. This immensely grand, exciting account of the First Symphony, though guided by Colin Davis with the surest and most passionate of hands, benefits from the richly Germanic sonorities of the Dresden Staatskapelle, to whom the music clearly makes utter sense in the context of Brahms, Bruckner, Strauss and Mahler. The Semperoper acoustics make the sound a bit cavernous, but the engineers seem to have caught every detail in Elgar’s sonic web with pristine clarity yet without any undue highlighting.

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This 1998 performance is a truly passionate reading, not only majestic at the biggest moments but much of the time swift-winged, living on its nerves. Wolfgang Teubner’s liner note, unrestrained by British imperial reticence, characterises the work as a battle between good and evil, and Davis certainly makes it sound that way – urging the orchestra on in the slow movement with some almost Barbirollian groans.

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The two Berlioz overtures are equally magnificently done, the Lear profound in its pathos, the Béatrice full of quicksilver energy. But the Elgar is very special, and I’m inclined to place it among the best currently available. In fact, the only version that pips it interpretatively is Elgar’s own with the LSO (on EMI, though currently unavailable) – never bettered, though the sound cannot rival the dark opulence of Davis’s. Calum MacDonald