Elgar
Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55
Cockaigne (In London Town) – Concert Overture, Op.40
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Sakari Oramo

Recorded May 2012 (Symphony) and November 2013 – in Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden
CD No: BIS-1939 [CD/SACD]
Duration: 67 minutes
Reviewed: December 2014

This very welcome second volume of Sakari Oramo conducting Elgar’s music includes an exuberant and expansive account of Cockaigne, a fantastic masterpiece depicting the London that the composer knew at the turn of the twentieth-century. Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic feel this music deeply, playing it keenly and with affection, relaying vividly its many colourful episodes (with quite a few personal touches from Oramo), while those of quietude are sensitively and flexibly handled. The coda, with organ (ad lib), is glorious.

As for the magnificent First Symphony (1908), Oramo is at its heart, steering a course that satisfies symphonic direction and weightiness and also withdrawals into the private and enigmatic world that is such a part of Elgar’s complex character and which is profoundly embedded into his output. Oramo leads a rich-sounding account, properly noble, and also properly volatile. The first movement is an exciting ride, the playing trenchant and vibrant, and those moments of contemplation are given not only with empathy but they remain true to the movement as a whole.

The militaristic Scherzo is deliberately paced, suggestive of imperial pomp, and crisply articulated, the retreats to a calmer place made much of, and so very affecting. Such departures pave the way for the ‘attached’ slow movement, an Adagio of remarkable raptness and wonder. If, on this occasion, the music seems less poignant than it can, its many beauties are made intrinsic, with codes remaining to be cracked, and bit by bit Elgar’s astonishing declarations envelop the listener to heart-rending consequence. The finale begins in shadows before taking jubilant steps – Oramo once again ensures joyous vitality and, at the movement’s mid-point, picturesque breadth. This is a triumphant work – Elgar at last securing his place on the symphonic scene, and how – the Stockholm Philharmonic radiating a real sense of arrival and achievement.

Maybe BIS will now give us Elgar’s Third Symphony (as completed by Anthony Payne) from this estimable Scandinavian partnership, perhaps coupled with In the South. They should just fit a disc!

 

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