Elgar: Symphony No. 1

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 1
The slow tread of the march-like theme which opens this Symphony is very slow in this performance. Elgar marks it not only ‘nobilmente’, but also ‘andante’ – ‘at walking pace’, and his own recording with the same orchestra is faster, but not rushed: just pulsing with a suppressed energy which breaks out in the main allegro. Davis has effectively denied himself this springboard, so his allegro starts from scratch, and this is on the slow side as well. I had to get well into the movement before I found the music catching fire, and could appreciate the well-balanced, affectionate playing of the orchestra, and the detailed, if somewhat dry recording. The middle two movements come off best: there’s real relish in the way conductor and orchestra attack the Allegro molto, with its scurrying string-writing, and artfulness in the gradual winding down towards the linked Adagio, where the same scurrying theme, slowed down, forms the basis of the movement. Helped by some sensitive solo playing, Davis shapes the music beautifully, controlling the tension all the way up to and through the climax (though I wish that his own vocal contributions were less intrusive). The finale, apart from one over-careful stretch in the middle, moves surely to the final reappearance of the opening nobilmente theme, and enthusiastic audience applause. I can’t say that this did it for me: if you don’t want to go back as far as Elgar’s own recording, try Boult’s Prom performance from 1976 — that really is electrifyingly live. Martin Cotton