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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) realized by Anthony PAYNE
Symphony No. 3 (premiered 1998) [55:36]
So Many True Princesses Who Have Gone* (1925) [6:46]
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 6 (premiered 2006) [7:54]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
rec. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, Wales, 1-2 July 2007
CHANDOS CHSA 5057 [70:18]

It is a tribute to Anthony Payne’s skill and sensitivity that the ‘Third Symphony’ has grown in the estimation of a considerable number of observers. Elaborated from Elgar’s sketches for the projected Third Symphony the result has proven to be a work of some stature. Payne captured the essence and spirit of Elgar so well; you recognize all the Elgarian harmonies, density of textures, dynamics, rhythmic patterns, turns of phrase and orchestration. Payne imposed his own creations intuitively, sensitively and unobtrusively and above all most appositely. This is, I believe, its fourth recording. Following on from the original 1997 NMC recording with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Davis, Naxos came along with their recording made, in 1999, by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel. Then the London Symphony Orchestra waded in with release looming on their own label. This latter recording has not been reviewed on this site.

I will not bore readers by reiterating the provenance of this symphony or the controversy surrounding Payne’s elaboration. It was contrary to the composer’s wishes but was made at the behest of the Elgar estate who were concerned about the looming end of copyright and the prospect of less sensitive elaborations. 

The new recording has the benefit of the latest SACD technology. The Chandos sound is spectacular with a wonderful sense of spaciousness and transparency. 

Hickox faces strong competition especially from Paul Daniels. Daniels’ recording was the 2,000th release from Naxos. They pushed the boat out not only by using the BSO with its solid tradition of acclaimed Elgar performances and recordings but also the superior engineering skills of Tony Faulkner. For this recording, Payne made some revisions that added even more stature to his accomplishment. 

Hickox’s opening is muscular and strident, brass blaring; Daniels impresses strongly too. He arrests attention immediately with an opening that has a scaldingly abrasive trumpet salvo. Daniels’ first movement’s first subject has bite and heroic imagery while the second subject, the theme associated with Elgar’s last love, Vera Hockman, is more tenderly romantic and wistful than Hickox. The second movement for Hickox is something of a return to the mood of the Andrew Davis reading: it is more reminiscent of Elgar’s lighter salon music. Hickox dreams softly and delivers music of delicacy, refinement and femininity with only a brief broadening to a more aggressive stance midway. Daniel, opting for a quicker tempo, invests more depth and character. This movement, in his hands, sounds more symphonic. 

The Symphony’s Adagio solenne is the emotional heart of the work. It has great depth and power. Andrew Davis’s reading, which I still value highly, is profound and deeply disturbing. He is more bleak than Daniel and Hickox. Daniel finds space for defiance and some early heroic-assertive gestures. In addition he conveys a touching vulnerability, an acute sense of loss, of bewilderment and disorientation which is very moving. Hickox, too, finds all this but adds a feeling of isolation and loneliness. It is as if the composer, out-of-joint with the times is looking back sadly but manfully without self-pity. It is an amazing musical statement that moves me more and more every time I listen to it. In all three conductors’ hands the coda, with its unresolved viola phrase, is heartrending. 

The final Allegro under Hickox is for me the most successful. Hitherto I had regarded it as just a pastiche of the chivalric, martial material associated with the second movement of the First Symphony and the finale of the Second. Hickox’s reading goes further, investing the music with a better sense of cohesion. It has the good old swagger we have come to associate with the Edwardian Elgar. In addition there is that sense of grandeur recollected in a nostalgic glow shot through with regret at the passing of an era. Like Daniels, Hickox’s final modulations are deeply affecting as they progress through material from “The Wagon Passes” to those quiet resigned snare-drum tappings and that soft gong-stroke leading “the music away into some new visionary world”. 

So Many True Princesses Who Have Gone was composed for the unveiling of Sir Alfred Gilbert’s monument to Queen Alexandra, widow of Edward VII, who had died in 1925. Elgar’s setting of words by the then Poet Laureate, John Masefield was for chorus and military band. It remained for many years in manuscript: a vocal score with a keyboard reduction, the band parts apparently lost. Anthony Payne’s orchestration of the accompaniment was first performed at the 2002 Aldeburgh Festival. As Hickox proves, it is an affecting work of simple dignity, especially moving at the words “This lovely princess came from far away, And won our hearts and lives within them still”, Elgar clearly remembering, with affection, his friendship with Edward VII and his Queen. 

The existence of a Sixth Pomp & Circumstance March had been unsuspected for many years. In 1996, however, sketches came to light in the library of the Royal School of Church Music, complementing others in the British Library.  The Elgar Will Trust asked Anthony Payne in 2005 to examine this material with a view to assembling and orchestrating a performing version.  It was premiered in a 2006 Prom concert. Its form is more complex than its predecessors alternating between 2/4 and 6/8 metre. Until the appearance of the big tune at about 3½ minutes in, this material is, to my ears, frankly, empty bombast. This big tune may sound familiar; for it is the same as that heard in the composer’s Empire March written for the opening of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in April 1924 (as it happened, a logistical oversight meant that the first performance was not until that July). The CD notes inexplicably make a connection between this Pomp and Circumstance No 6 and the ‘first and most famous march in the series’? The Welsh players turn in a thrilling enough performance, if you start it at 3:20; but perhaps this is a case of it better to have left the sketches in the archives?            

Another noteworthy recording of the Elgar/Payne Symphony. My choice of available recordings: Paul Daniels on NaxosPomp and Circumstance No. 6 disappoints; perhaps the sketches were better left in the archives?
 
Ian Lace

 

 


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