Elgar: Symphony No. 1 in A flat; Imperial March, Op. 32

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in A flat; Imperial March, Op. 32
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/George Hurst
It’s a measure of the success of the ‘super-budget-price’ Naxos label that it is now recording orchestras as good as the BBC Philharmonic in repertoire for which international best-seller status is by no means guaranteed. Certainly there’s nothing ‘cheap’ about this performance. Hurst commands attention from the very opening with the glorious A flat tune which dominates the work played simply, as marked. In the Allegro which follows, as in the finale, his speeds are faster than is usual nowadays; but there’s plenty of justification for them in the score and in the composer’s own recording. Nevertheless, on a journey this splendid, some people may prefer rather more frequent pauses to admire the view. The Adagio is quite beautifully phrased, though without the bulging string lines that were the hallmark of an Elgar or Barbirolli performance. The Scherzo, on the other hand, is a bit too deliberate for my liking. Two further quibbles: the recording seems set at a rather low level, and the coupling, though worth hearing, is not terribly generous. Ultimately this is probably not a first-choice version of the symphony, but it’s more than recommendable to anyone coming to the work for the first time. Stephen Maddock