- Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55
Because Daniel Barenboim is so closely associated with the German orchestral repertoire, conducting the music of English composer Edward Elgar may seem a bit of a byway, though his explorations in previous Decca recordings of the "Cello Concerto in E minor" with Alisa Weilerstein, and the "Symphony No. 2 in E flat major" with the Staatskapelle Berlin, have yielded exceptional results. This performance of the "Symphony No. 1 in A flat major" (1908), again with the Staatskapelle Berlin, is a powerful meditation on the human drama, and while it lacks a specific program, the music evokes a mixture of bittersweet nostalgia and darker forebodings. Yet true to Elgar's optimistic nature, the music also exudes nobility in its opening theme, one of the composer's most famous "big tunes," and its peroration in the Finale is one of the most stirring in all British music. Barenboim elicits a profoundly moving performance from his musicians, and there is considerable energy in their playing, which propels the symphony forward, sometimes with a massive sound. Yet the recording is surprisingly close-up and focused, which enhances many sections of intimate, chamber-like scoring, and virtually every detail can be heard clearly.