In the South (Alassio) Concert Overture, Op.50
Symphony No.2 in E flat, Op.63
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Recorded on 10 & 11 May 2005 in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea
Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler
Reviewed: September 2005
CD No: CHANDOS CHSA 5038 [CD/SACD Hybrid]
Duration: 77 minutes
Both these performances succeed, for the most part, in combining the long view with attention to detail. In the South gets off to a lithe, springy start, Richard Hickox building the opening paragraph superbly while encouraging the BBC National Orchestra of Wales to respond to Elgar’s every expressive fluctuation of tempo and dynamic. The central ‘Roman’ episode is carefully shaped to fashion considerable drama and power, while the lyrical music is handled with great delicacy and tenderness. The account of the ‘canto popolare’ section, led by a solo viola, is breathtakingly magical.
Hickox tears impetuously into the opening of the Second Symphony like a child just let out of school. It’s very exciting, though it comes at the cost of some loss of detail and precision, and while it captures the ‘vivace’ of Elgar’s initial tempo marking it misses some of the also-requested ‘nobilmente’. Better that, though, than the other way round.
It’s followed by a measured, spacious reading of the funereal Larghetto, and lays bare both the music’s dignity and its anguish. There is a genuine sense of improvisatory freedom in the keening oboe solo. Hickox’s ear for balance and Chandos’s fine-grained recording ensure that nothing of Elgar’s intricate scoring in the third movement is lost amid the impulsive forward drive, with a wonderful crispness to the more delicately scored passages. The ‘nightmare’ episode builds to a hair-raising climax. As it fades, and just before the return of the Rondo theme the recording picks up the sound of a page being turned (5’43”).
Amid the broad, rolling phrases that launch the finale, Hickox doesn’t lose sight of the tensions that remain to be resolved. The emotions of the earlier movements are not recollected in tranquillity – they are still very much alive, and the warm glow of the final pages is more hard won than in some performances.
The recording combines richness with clarity, and the cut-and-thrust of Elgar’s writing gains enormously by the violins being divided left and right – an arrangement that Elgar himself expected.