WORKS: Symphonies No. 1 & 3
PERFORMER: Hallé / Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: HLL 7514
Many of us first encountered Sibelius through John Barbirolli’s Hallé, in a tradition established with several British premieres and maintained throughout changing times and fashions. Sir Mark Elder’s new recordings, one in studio, the other live from the Bridgewater Hall, are still very much in the British Sibelius vein established by Barbirolli, Anthony Collins and Alexander Gibson among others – forthright, intense, but avoiding Teutonic weight or Slav grandiosity.
The First times out longer than many, on a par with Colin Davis’s earlier recordings, but feels swift enough. In the onrush of the first movement Elder brings out the Tchaikovskian echoes, but they’re never lingering or sentimental. The second movement is eloquent if rather self-consciously poetic, but gathers fire splendidly towards the end. Underwhelming timpani strokes open a restrained third movement, but the trio develops beautifully, and the fourth again gathers exciting momentum to a towering finale. The Third opens with plenty of airy atmosphere, the warmth and energy of the Hallé’s playing banishing undue chill; the second movement is slower and more reflective than many. The fourth, though, builds up engagingly from its hesitant opening to its driving, climatic conclusion.
These recordings enter a far more crowded field than Barbirolli faced, but with Elder’s warm, often almost intimate performances and clean-cut sound they would make introductions as attractive as Sir John’s in his day. Michael Scott Rohan