Elgar, Payne

COMPOSERS: Elgar,Payne
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Elgar, Payne
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Pomp and Circumstance March No. 6
PERFORMER: Adrian Partington Singers; BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5057 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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The Elgar/Payne Symphony has been circulating widely for the best part of a decade, and if anything it sounds even stronger than at its triumphant public premiere in 1998. Conductors now seem surer of the transitions (often challenging in Elgar), and of Payne’s remarkable speculative ending. Richard Hickox’s approach to the final march-past has impressive determination: there’s a similar quality in the coda of the first movement and the Adagio’s climax.

But – rather surprisingly, given his Elgarian pedigree – there’s something oddly relentless about Hickox’s attitude to tempo. The characteristic Elgarian ebb and flow, so well caught by Paul Daniel on Naxos, and so lovingly intensified by Colin Davis (LSO Live), is particularly lacking in the first two movements. The result is that, despite the lively tempos, the effect often tends to heaviness. Elgar’s long chains of rhythmic sequences cry out for more supple treatment. Daniel and Davis are also better at bringing out those lovely passing atmospheric touches that add another deep note of Elgarian authenticity to what Payne calls his ‘elaboration’ of the sketches.

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Of the two front runners, Paul Daniel has the edge for consistent insight, but Colin Davis’s version of the great slow movement in particular should also be heard. As to the extras, Payne’s completion of the Sixth Pomp and Circumstance March isn’t quite a rival to the best of the earlier marches, but neither is it a complete flop, and it’s played with suitable panache here. The wistful So Many True Princesses is slighter stuff, though Payne’s orchestration adds enough Elgarian poetry to make it repeatable. No complaints about the recorded sound.