Symphony No.2 in E flat, Op.63
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded June 2011 (Symphony/Sospiri) & August 2012, Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden
CD No: BIS-1879 [CD/SACD] Duration: 64 minutes Reviewed: December 2013
Sakari Oramo conducts Elgar’s Second Symphony, Sospiri and Elegy [Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra; BIS]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
This is one of the most detail-studded versions of Elgar’s Second Symphony you are ever going to hear, the superb BIS recording capturing every nuance of Sakari Oramo’s painstakingly prepared and closely observed reading that is gifted to us by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra’s virtuoso and sensitive response. There is no need to be concerned that a Finnish conductor and a Swedish orchestra do not ‘get’ Elgar’s music. They do – with power, passion, compassion and authority, the Stockholm Philharmonic, excellent in all departments, sporting a particularly distinguished horn section and a very personable principal oboist.
The Symphony (1910) begins with a vigorous release of energy, fully vital here, Oramo then ebbing the music but also keeping structural direction in view. He sets the violins antiphonally, fully in-keeping with what Elgar knew and wrote for, and directs a first movement of freshness and vitality while also searching it for secrets; the music thrills and affects. With the slow movement, Elgar’s elegiac tribute to King Edward VII, Oramo ensures a deeply felt utterance without ever becoming mawkish; indeed, by a slightly ‘less is more’ approach it is all the more moving, dynamically contoured to a private and public outpouring that reaches great heights of feeling and includes an intensely eloquent oboe ‘soliloquy’ (7’23”-7’58”) that is plaintively expressive.
The scherzo that follows is fully up to Elgar’s Presto marking. As quick and as nimble as the playing needs to be, there is never a suggestion of showmanship, for Oramo points the music with a disarming blend of clarity, litheness and sense, a mercurial calm before the storm of the central section where percussive demons batter themselves into the action. At the movement’s brilliant close the Stockholm Philharmonic pulls out all the stops. The finale, beginning amiably, then searing to exorcise further fiends before exuding pomp (including, from 11’48”, for eight bars, the organ pedal that is not in the score but which Elgar sanctioned and Sir Adrian Boult passed on to us, an addition made rather glorious here) and ultimately coming to rest in acceptance of an era gone and not to be seen again – all this is revealed with purpose and understanding. Following which Sospiri (1913) and the Elegy (1909), both for strings, Sospiri adding harp and organ, are ideal complements and touchingly distilled.
Oramo is no stranger to British music (Bax, Bridge, Foulds, Vaughan Williams, Walton), and anyway Elgar’s output can be perceived very easily as continuing a European line; after all, his first successes were in Germany and he was much admired by Richard Strauss. Elgar prefaced the score of his Second Symphony with lines from Percy Bysshe Shelley – “Rarely, rarely, comest thou, / Spirit of Delight!” – and this complex work (both musically and emotionally) can prove elusive to its interpreters. Not to Elgar himself (he recorded it in 1927 with the LSO, there is a fine transfer on Naxos), Barbirolli and Boult – and it could be said that Oramo embraces elements of the approaches of all three while being utterly distinctive and his own man. This release, certainly a Spirit of Delight, is complemented by a stand-out cover, St Paul's from the River, by George Hyde Pownall (1876-1932), and John Pickard’s exhaustive and enlightening booklet note.