Elgar: Symphony No. 2

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Elgar: Symphony No. 2
WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 478 6677

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This is a superb, in fact I feel justified in calling it unequivocally a great, Elgar Two. It’s difficult to know where to start in listing its excellences – the playing of the Berlin Staatskapelle, without one ounce of unnecessary emotion yet performing as if they’ve had the music in their blood all their lives? The warmth and yet crystal clarity of the recording, in which every counterpoint, every subsidiary voice in Elgar’s hugely complex score is perfectly audible and ideally balanced? But one must start and finish with Barenboim’s interpretation, his first in this work for 40 years, with which he burnishes his already impressive and long-established credentials as an Elgarian. Though his approach may lack something of the nervous mercurial energy of Elgar’s own 1927 recording, this is a marvellously full-blooded reading of the Symphony, full of drama and passion and rich-hued colour, reminding me – if anyone – of John Barbirolli’s 1964 version with the Hallé.

But Barenboim, like Barbirolli, also understands perfectly Elgar’s inwardness, the moments where the dynamic drops to ppp and he seems almost to lose himself in the hush of his own thought. Barenboim certainly makes the most of the haunted quality of the first movement’s development section. The celebrated oboe counter-melody in the Larghetto has seldom sounded so plangent, while Barenboim’s scherzo is demonic in its remorseless forward drive, preparing for a complex and exciting finale in which those slashing off-beat chords at the return of the theme
have all the necessary impulsiveness and confidence.

This must be one of the finest performances currently on offer, and a wonderful follow-up to Barenboim’s Elgar Cello Concerto with Alisa Weilerstein, winner of this year’s BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Year.

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Calum MacDonald