WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in A flat; Introduction and Allegro for Strings
PERFORMER: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka
CATALOGUE NO: CD-727 DDD
It’s tempting to assume the stirring motto theme that opens Elgar’s First Symphony to be the very epitome of Edwardian splendour. But this is clearly not the way Otaka hears it. In his reading, the purposeful march-like tread appears uncertain and halting, the orchestral texture wistful and fragmentary. This is typical of his whole approach, in which he strips bare the richness of the orchestration. His version is striking for the way it brings to our attention unusual and often unsettling inner details that seem to bypass other conductors. For me, the effect is often revelatory, but I could imagine that some might take issue with the slow introduction and the lack of momentum in the ensuing allegro. Hopefully, they will be won over by the deft playing of the Scherzo, the eloquence of the slow movement, delivered here with the kind of blazing intensity usually reserved for Bruckner, and by a finale in which Otaka steers his magnificent orchestra to a hard-won but convincing conclusion.
The recording, made in Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall, is resonant without unduly sacrificing clarity, and the disc can be confidently recommended to all those who want an alternative view of Elgar from that of Boult or Barbirolli. Erik Levi