Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Elgar Symphonies and Froissart Overture  

Overture: Froissart, op.19 (1890)

Symphony No.1 in A, op.55 (1907/1908)

Symphony No.2 in E, op.63 (1910/1911)


Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis

Signum Classics SIGC0179 [2 CDs TT: 67:55 + 57:23]

Andrew Davis has been an Elgarian all his career – he recorded Falstaff and the Enigma for Lyrita in 1974 (re–issued on SRCD 301) – and during his time as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra he gave many fine Elgar performances – I can recall a very satisfying, and very moving, account of the 2nd Symphony at the Proms in 1992 – and over the years his vision of this music has grown in stature. These performances derive from live performances given in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, on London’s South Bank, on 20 May 2007 (2nd Symphony) and 12 April 2007 (Froissart and 1st Symphony), and thus represent some of Sir Andrew’s most recent thoughts on this composer. 


The Froissart Overture was Elgar’s first major orchestral work, and although seemingly thoroughly Elgarian in tone, he was still finding his voice and this work has its flaws in construction and as such it requires a firm hand at the helm. Sir Andrew delivers a very fine, tight, performance and, strangely, at times he manages a French feel to the music – which sticks out like a sore thumb when listening. For the rest, it’s a fine exposition of the music, but there is, occasionally, a slight scrappiness in the playing of the violins.


Despite its seeming to be an extrovert wok, I have always felt the 1st Symphony to be full of the loneliness Elgar said he felt as a creative artist. Sir Andrew seems to find this strand too, in this interpretation. This is a splendid performance of a difficult score, and with almost perfect tempi – although some may feel the scherzo to be a trifle too fast, for he has to put the brakes on for the trio, not marked in the score, and Elgar was nothing if not meticulous in conveying to the performer exactly what he wanted – and a total regard for Elgar’s markings this is just about as good as it gets. Perhaps, for just a few bars, Sir Andrew doesn’t quite make the transition into the recapitulation of the first movement as coherent as it should be, but this is a minor point. The recording is bright and clear, although I would have welcomed a more precise, and louder, sound from the timpani at times, and the balance is fine, giving a good concert hall perspective to the performance – you feel as if you’re in the best seats in the house. I should point out that this is a performance which takes the correct amount of time required for performance, not the bizarre timings printed in the booklet which claims the first movement to be 7 minutes 32 seconds long. Better proof reading is called for here.


The performance of the 2nd Symphony is even better! Here Sir Andrew fully understands the spirit of delight which comes rarely, and we have an opening movement of great breadth and urgency, a slow movement – surely Larghetto is too fast for a funeral march? – which is broad and poignant, a quicksilver scherzo, with sinister undertones in the middle section and in the finale, always a difficult movement to bring off correctly, Sir Andrew achieves an apotheosis of great stature and, ultimately calm and serenity. As with the recording of the 1st Symphony this disk has a marvelously clear sound, allowing one to hear many felicities of orchestration, particularly in the inner parts, which so often go unnoticed.


Here is the perfect meeting: a great British orchestra, with a great British conductor, who is a true Elgarian, playing great British music, and these performances can take their place besides the great recordings of these works by Elgar himself, Barbirolli, Boult and Handley.


Bob Briggs