WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in E flat major; In the South
PERFORMER: BBC SO/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 9031748882 DDD
How you view this symphony depends very much on how you view the era in which it was conceived: it occupied Elgar on and off for most of the first decade of this century. There are plenty of grand nobilmente passages, but a skittish Scherzo and an astonishing, fantastical interlude in the first movement where the symphony all but grinds to a halt in a miasma of indecision. It is open to interpretation whether the dark clouds that haunt the work are premonitions of terrors to come or merely spices thrown in to sharpen the taste-buds.
Andrew Davis comes down squarely in the anti-imperial camp. He wastes no time, setting off briskly into the opening bars without a hint of sentimental grandeur. It is an incisive and thoroughly modern interpretation, let down by string playing that sounds a little out of breath and edgy. By the second movement the tone has mellowed a little, which makes the explicit agonies of the Scherzo all the more unsettling. This is a masterful performance, vivid and transparent, the nightmarish trio boiling over with thunder and foreboding.
The recording is fine, clear and nicely balanced, marred only by a super-charged bass drum that sounds very impressive but rather unrealistic. Davis’s reading is not one that will allow you to wallow in the nostalgia for a golden era: the questions he poses are awkward and demand an answer. Christopher Lambton