Elgar: Symphony No 1, In The South / Slatkin, London Po

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Slatkin's devotion to, and understanding of Elgar is again impressively evident in his recording of the First Symphony. RCA have given him a richer, clearer sound than for his splendid interpretation of the Second (8/89). Like Menuhin, on his recent Virgin Classics recording, Slatkin stays nearer to Elgar's own handling of this work. The brisk tempo of the second movement for example, is very much in the composer's own manner. The scintillating playing of the London Philharmonic in this movement makes it a virtuoso demonstration of Elgar's skill as an orchestrator.

Where Slatkin brings his own view of the symphony most firmly into focus is in the first movement. Without in any way sentimentalizing the music, or pulling it about, he makes the listener—this listener, at any rate painfully aware of its underlying note of tragedy. Some idyll of happiness seems repeatedly to be just eluding Elgar's grasp—every time it seems he will reach it, it proves to be a mirage and vanishes. In the poignant coda, most beautifully played, he accepts that his paradise is lost. Only Barbirolli, in his earlier 1957 Pye recording with the Halle (currently unavailable), brings home so touchingly the resigned despair of this movement.

The symphony's Adagio, paradoxically, emerges in this performance as marginally less moving. Just why, it is hard to say. It is marvelously played, especially the interplay of oboe, clarinet, flute and bassoon, and there is a real ppp in the last six bars. But Slatkin, though only in the slightest degree, misses the ultimate atmosphere of the rapture with which this movement is enveloped. The finale, on the other hand, is totally satisfying.

The performance of In the South is stunningly successful, brisker in tempo than either Downes for Conifer or Sinopoli for DG and as exciting as either. Again, the LPO's playing is first-rate, particularly the lower strings, and the recording picks up all the detail, such as the importance of the glockenspiel part. In all, a most distinguished addition to the Elgar discography.

-- Gramophone [6/1991]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: RCA60380

  • UPC: 090266038022

  • Label: RCA

  • Composer: Sir Edward Elgar

  • Conductor: Leonard Slatkin

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: London Philharmonic Orchestra