Elgar/Payne: Symphony No. 3

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar/Payne
WORKS: Symphony No. 3
The debate about the rights and wrongs of Anthony Payne’s ‘elaboration’ of Elgar’s sketches seems to have run out of steam. In its place we have the growing realisation that, whatever the relative proportions of Elgar and Payne in this symphony, as a work in its own right it’s magnificent. Now we have three recordings to show that – like the two wholly Elgar symphonies – the Elgar/Payne can stand a variety of interpretative approaches, and reveal something vital and significant in each one. Colin Davis’s version is freer than Andrew Davis’s pioneering recording for NMC, and more expansive than Paul Daniel’s on Naxos. If he doesn’t quite capture that forward-pressing ‘flying’ quality Daniel brings to the outer movements (very reminiscent of Elgar’s own manner in his faster music), there’s an inner intensity that makes passage after passage come to life as never before on record. The slow movement is superbly paced and deeply moving; but surprisingly the much lighter scherzo comes off well too, lyrical passages having a rich autumnal glow that makes the Symphony’s emotional sequence from movement to movement easier to understand. Most of all, there’s a sense that Davis believes utterly in the music, including the still-controversial ending – so much so that I found myself forgetting that this Symphony is the work of two minds and not one master-mind. This is the most impressive of Davis’s three recent LSO Elgar recordings, and although the sound still has the unfortunate Barbican hardness, the recording team has clearly worked hard at correcting it, and the star rating duly reflects that. Strongly recommended, even to those who already have an Elgar 3 on disc. Stephen Johnson