Elgar: Symphony No.1; Cokaigne (in London Town)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Elgar: Symphony No.1; Cokaigne (in London Town)
WORKS: Symphony No.1; Cokaigne (in London Town)
PERFORMER: Royal Stockholm Phil/ Sakari Oramo

Advertisement

With Sakari Oramo and Daniel Barenboim now championing Elgar, those who have long argued for a less provincial, more international view of the composer have a lot to be happy about. Oramo and his Stockholm orchestra follow their acclaimed recording of the Second Symphony last year with an account of the First that is about as far from the starchy Edwardiana of Elgarian cliché as one can imagine.

Oramo has secured a vibrant, electric orchestral sound that underpins everything, making even the slow introduction seem exuberant underneath its finely judged nobilmente breadth. In the scherzo, the sparring violins dig in to exciting effect, though not everyone will be convinced by Oramo’s decision to slow down the quiet major-key theme. And, while the energy coursing through the outer movements leaves no room for pomp or sentimentality, this has to be weighed against some loss of light and shade. It’s worth it, though – these are minor quibbles when set against the warmth and fullness of the performance as a whole. When that majestic opening theme finally returns at the end, with the strings hurling themselves around and about it, this performance is not perhaps the neatest you will ever hear, but it might be the most joyous.

Advertisement

The orchestra offers similarly big-hearted, vital playing in Cockaigne. The opening theme kicks up its heels cheekily; Oramo keeps the undulating romantic theme at the centre nicely understated, and maintains a fine balance of tenderness and swagger until the rambunctious final pages. Erica Jeal