Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed: March 2002
This is a magnificent performance! Recorded live at two LSO concerts in the Barbican Hall (30 September/1 October 2001), this is the first ’LSO Live’ CD to take advantage of the opened-out acoustic that was a product of intensive work last summer. The Hall’s new-found presence and clarity is well captured in this immediate and vivid recording.
Sir Colin’s conducting is at once deeply felt and spacious. The result is a reading that is resplendent in majesty, engrossing in its energy, ear-tweaking in the sensitive revealing of expressive undergrowth, and very moving when Elgar bares his most soulful confidences. Davis and the LSO beautifully co-ordinate the fullest gestures and the lightest of filigree details – intricate solo lines are especially lucid – and the balance between trenchant power and expressive intimacy, and what lies between, is judged to a nicety.
At the very beginning Davis favours something far more ’nobilmente’ than ’semplice’ for the motto theme (Elgar suggests more equilibrium between the two states). This sets the mood for a rich and moulded account that avoids being heart-on-sleeve or aggrandising because Davis and his Orchestra have penetrated to the heart of the music.
In what is a broadly conceived and wonderfully eloquent rendition, it’s the noble slow movement that stands out, not least the pianissimo episode towards the close (from 9’ 09”) when the strings are unbelievably hushed and intense – and quieter than the ’new’ Hall suggests is possible in reality! A creaking chair (or whatever) is audible but the concentration of the music-making transcends such intrusions.
Throughout, the LSO is in great form, and given the symphony’s use of transformation and cyclical procedures, I’ll end as I begun: this is a magnificent performance.


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