Elgar: Symphony No 3, Etc / Hickox, Et Al

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This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


ELGAR (completed/orch Payne) Symphony No. 3. So many true princesses who have gone. 1 Pomp and Circumstance March No. 6 Richard Hickox, cond; Adrian Partington Singers; 1 BBC Natl O of Wales CHANDOS 5057 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 70:18)

I never thought it would come to this, but I am beginning to think of Anthony Payne’s realization of Elgar’s sketches for a Third Symphony as my favorite among the three. This didn’t happen suddenly, but over time, and largely thanks to Paul Daniel’s recording—to me the best of the three readings of Andrew Davis, Daniel, and Colin Davis—I have come to realize the enormous fertility of ideas that Elgar packed into those sloppy scraps of manuscript. Payne has worked a wonder, maybe the best reconstruction of a work in the last 100 years, and while we still fight over the inclusion of Mahler’s 10th in the canon, this Elgar No. 3 seems to have been accepted almost from the beginning.

So what has Hickox done to change the landscape? Quite a lot, actually. Though the Colin Davis recording had the wonderfully rejuvenated LSO at its disposal, I have never been happy with the sound that LSO Live conjures up for their releases, though there are certainly some outstanding recordings in that estimable series. It is true that their SACD issues help with the sound somewhat, but not terribly much. Davis’s reading is a good one, convincing to be sure, but not I fear as good as the excellent Daniel, who seems to me to galvanize his forces in a more solid and coherent presentation. (For a pro and con opinion on the Colin Davis, see Peter J. Rabinowitz and Bernard Jacobson in Fanfare 26:2.) But now we have Hickox, whose credentials in Elgar are formidable, even though he has been accused of soft-pedaling the emotional core of the composer. He gives us a performance nearly as adept and astute as the Daniel, and in superior, excellently recorded DSD surround sound (though the Naxos issue is nothing to sneeze at). While I think the BBC Orchestra of Wales a fine band, they don’t quite come up to the finesse of Daniel’s Bournemouth Symphony, which in turn doesn’t quite match Colin Davis’s LSO. But all three are close enough, and the BBC Welsh put on quite a show here, especially in the haunting and ruminative third movement.

So, there you have it. I would not sacrifice Daniel, but I have a feeling that this Chandos may become my recording of choice because of the superior soundstage and beautiful depth and richness of the recorded image. I find myself paying more attention to this work while listening to this recording than any of the others, and Hickox conjures up some magical playing, virile, sensitive, robust, exciting, and all of those other contradictory terms we can apply when listening to almost any Elgar symphony.

But there is a little more; we know that Elgar planned a series of six Pomp and Circumstance marches, yet the sixth was locked away in sketches found both in the British Library and the Royal School of Church Music. The Elgar Will Trust asked Payne to assemble and complete the work in 2005, and it was premiered in 2006 by the BBC Symphony under Andrew Davis. It is a bit of a strange bird in its melodies, but definitely Elgarian, and those fans of the composer will have to have this release, the first recording ever. So many true princesses who have gone is a memorial ode by Poet Laureate John Masefield, originally set to music for the Sir Alfred Gilbert monument to the Queen Mother, Queen Alexandra. The music was meant for band, but all that survives is a sketch for voices and piano. Payne set this piece for orchestra at the 2002 Aldeburgh Festival. It is an interesting work, though by no means the greatest Elgar you may ever hear.

But this Third Symphony just might be. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHSA 5057

  • UPC: 095115505724

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Sir Edward Elgar

  • Conductor: Richard Hickox

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Adrian Partington Singers, BBC National Orchestra of Wales