Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55
Recorded 19 & 21 September 2015 in Philharmonie, Berlin
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2016
CD No: DECCA 478 9353
Duration: 51 minutes
Following an impressive Elgar 2, Daniel Barenboim and Staatskapelle Berlin now release an equally distinguished First Symphony.
Barenboim’s Elgarian credentials go back a long way, to his CBS/London Philharmonic LP days. Such a seasoned approach is evident in the unaffected way this Symphony opens, nobilmente e semplice, which Barenboim judges unerringly, no more than setting the scene rather than giving the game away. From there the Allegro enjoys energy and an affecting ebb and flow, an expressive flexibility that doesn’t harm the movement’s cohesion while ensuring that nothing is glossed over, and attention to detail is immaculate, although some may find the rhetoric over-inflated.
The second-movement Allegro molto is brought off with alternating fire and reverie, the fast sections quicker than most, slightly taxing of the strings’ togetherness and with vivid percussion, the slower parts beguilingly confided … and from there to the sublime slow movement, treated spaciously by Barenboim with heart somewhere near sleeve at times, a real Adagio, eloquent, deeply-felt and very moving; and with burnished string-playing and the occasional hint of portamento, the violins antiphonal, double basses left-positioned, the arrangement Elgar wrote for.
The Finale opens in shadows, with a Bruckner 9-like tremolo and Barenboim knows all about that composer, before another heady Allegro takes charge. At its mid-point is a glorious panorama that Barenboim gives full breadth too, and, come the Symphony’s close, there is an exhilarating mix of eagerness and grandeur. For anyone holding this great work dear, Barenboim’s account of it should be found insightful and rewarding. The sound quality is a model of clarity, weight and naturalness.