ALBUM TITLE: Elgar
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Chanson de Matin, Op. 15 No. 2; Mina; Carissima
PERFORMER: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4165
I still think Vasily Petrenko’s Elgar First Symphony is a five-star disc. I said then that it revealed ‘a conductor with an intelligent, informed but deep love of this music’. That love can be felt throughout this performance too: in the sumptuous but textured orchestral sound (beautifully recorded), in the attentive phrasing and in the power of the climaxes.
And yet it doesn’t have the same consistent understanding, the same clarity of overall conception. Granted, the Second Symphony is more complex and enigmatic than the First – it still takes an exceptional performance to convince me that the first section of the finale really belongs. But what I take away from Petrenko’s version is a memory of superb individual moments rather than a convincing account of what Elgar himself called a ‘passionate pilgrimage’. The ‘malign influence’ section in the first movement has a wonderful sinister voluptuousness; the return of its main theme on massed brass and percussion in the Rondo is hair-raising; the slow movement’s lonely oboe solo, dreamily out of step with the funeral tread, is as telling as I can remember it. But the relatively slow tempo at the Symphony’s opening adds weight, too much so in the violins’ second theme – when you notice how rhythmically repetitious Elgar’s themes are, something isn’t working. So much of this is sumptuous, expansive, beguiling certainly, but lacking the nervous energy, the emotional volatility, that is also Elgar. And where’s the sustained high trumpet at the climax of the finale? Ultimately, a disappointment.