ALBUM TITLE: Elgar
WORKS: Introduction and Allegro; Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Doric String Quartet; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5181 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Reviewing Vasily Petrenko’s Elgar First Symphony two years ago, I thought it was unlikely to be beaten for a long while. After hearing Edward Gardner’s version I’m feeling slightly chastened. Gardner’s sound is less opulent and rounded: you’re more aware of striving or singing lines in his textures, sometimes contending, sometimes deliciously interacting. But this more complex, multi-faceted, subtly changeable Elgar feels just that little bit truer.
The nobility and majesty in the first theme are genuine enough, so too are those gorgeous ‘heard down by the river’ nature moments. It isn’t long though before the troubled, restless, yearning Elgar makes himself heard again though. Gardner is a master of transitions: the gradual transformation of scherzo to slow movement is only the most striking, but there are plenty of others. And what’s most marvellous is the way Gardner, having opened out so many different vistas, draws them all together into a single coherent statement. Is the return of the nobilmente theme at the end convincingly affirmative, or is the exquisite longing revealed in the slow movement’s closing pages unappeasable? The answer seems to be, both. I’ve rarely heard a performance of this Symphony in which the human triumphs over the monumental so convincingly.
The Introduction and Allegro is just as good: atmospheric, tender then joyously energetic. I particularly like the way Gardner manages some of the tricky rhythms in the Allegro – and the central fugue is as ‘devilish’ as Elgar delightedly claimed. And every detail is clear and well placed in these excellent recordings – not least in the superb quartet-orchestra perspective in the Introduction and Allegro.
Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.