- Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55
- Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90
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Brahms: Symphony No. 3; Elgar: Symphony No. 1 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Sir Edward Elgar completed only two symphonies during his long and distinguished career. These complex, massive works do not give up their secrets easily. While many early 20th century composers languished under the influence of Brahms, Elgar displayed a close affinity to Bruckner. The symphonic arguments of both unfold slowly, with great dignity and nobility. Indeed the designation "nobilmente" was among Elgar's favorites, and he used this word to describe the character of the first movement of his First Symphony. For conductor and listener alike, however, there is a fine line between nobility and tedium. Two conductors who skillfully and consistently walked that line were Sir John Barbirolli and Sir Adrian Boult. The former's approach was generally calm and collected. Barbirolli favored slow (but never sluggish) tempos and grand sweeping phrases that lend an appropriately Brucknerian weight and intensity to this music. By comparison, Boult seems brash and impulsive--even in his old age; he was pushing 90 when he gave this performance in July 1976. His tempos are brisk and bracing without ever undermining the majesty of Elgar's richly melodic utterances. Both conductors were uncommonly sensitive to Elgar's rich instrumental colors, though Boult tends to give more prominence to the harp and the winds--particularly the clarinets. This impression, though, may be due in part to the recording engineers. This BBC broadcast tape boasts exceptional clarity and openness with only the tiniest hint of analog tape hiss. By comparison, Barbirolli's otherwise excellent EMI recording sounds veiled and distant. If Barbirolli's interpretation was inspired by Bruckner, Boult focuses on the score's Straussian heroism. Thus his pacing is consistently quicker than Barbirolli's--four minutes faster in the opening movement; three in the adagio. This generally works in Boult's favor, especially in his haunting, ethereal reading of the adagio. Barbirolli's prosaic approach to the score's radiant slow movement lacks Boult's warmth and lyricism. However, in the sweeping finale Boult seems frantic and incoherent next to the symphonic sweep and volatility of the Barbirolli disc. Boult's Brahms 3rd is rather less remarkable. This performance was given over a year after the Elgar, and Boult appears to have aged considerably, at least in musical terms. This time around his tempos are quite a bit slower than the norm. Even Martin Cotton, in his gushing booklet essay, has to admit that "the tempo for the first movement may seem a little slow for the Allegro con brio marking." But the problem here is more than a matter of tempo alone; the "brio" is also absent. Phrases don't end; they simply run out of steam. Attacks are softened, and the score's many dramatic outbursts are muted. That said, there is still much beauty here, especially in the lush sound and glorious playing of the BBC Symphony.