This version of Elgar 2 has a lot going
for it but it is not going to dislodge the favoured few.
There is nothing amiss with the playing
and the recording catches the subtle autumnal shades as well
as the sable and ermine. Arwel Hughes knows this music extremely
well so the orchestra are in safe hands. The style favours
Boult's philosophical grandiloquence (yes, even in the 1940s
recording) rather than Solti's and Svetlanov's passionate
fervour. Where I expect to be transfixed by the scimitar lancing
of the violins at the peak of the second movement we get instead
a more staggered emphasis. Listen though to the lovely cradling
of the passage at I (10:14
onwards). This reading has a marmoreal tone and a measured
tread which places it in the Elgarian ‘mainstream’. Examples
abound but try the slow movement at 8.29. Predictably, the
quicksilver does not fly as it should in the third movement.
This is music that can too easily lean towards a strangely
sensational lethargy - part of the received Elgarian style.
Then again there are masterly touches in the poetically judged
and weighted downward sigh of the symphony's last five minutes.
This is done with wonderfully sustained sensitivity.
The reader must beware my recommendations
in Elgar. I favour Silvestri in In the South, Solti
in the symphonies, Du Pré's live Philadelphia recording over the EMI Classics studio version, Barbirolli
in Introduction and Allegro and Heifetz in the Violin
Concerto. Though I tried hard with Boult and Menuhin in the
symphonies and violin concerto they never held me. For me
the Elgarian revelation came with a BBCTV relay of
Solti's Elgar 2 in the early 1970s. Perhaps I am becoming
a reformed character though: I surprised myself the other
day by greatly enjoying Colin Davis's Proms 2006 broadcast
of Elgar 2. This was despite its relaxed handling of the first
two movements. The last two movements were all the more telling
for the build-up achieved across the allegro and larghetto.
After too short a silence come the three
Hoddinott Investiture Dances. Hoddinott delivered the
work for Prince Charles' Investiture at Caernarfon Castle. It is accessible music a good few leagues away from
his symphonic style. Much the same can be said of Frankel
and Arnold. These are really catchy, optimistic and heady
pieces in the case of I and III. It is murmurously nostalgic
in the case of II which has some kinship with similar haunting
music in the Cornish Dances of Malcolm Arnold - another Celtic
brother. He does not try the ‘pumped up’ treatment accorded
to dance material by Grace Williams in her Ballads for
Orchestra - a masterly piece but written with wholly different
intentions. Hoddinott’s dances are superbly carried off by
the young players. While Malcolm Arnold's dances deservedly
enjoy multiple recordings I hope that the orchestral dances
of Mathias and Hoddinott, which are every bit as good, are
remembered and revived frequently. Interesting to note that
the last recording of these dances was made by the same orchestra
shortly after the premiere and issued on a Music for Pleasure
LP. There the conductor was Arthur Davison, the NYOW’s music
director for many years.
The notes by Peter Reynolds are outstandingly
good having some fascinating touches woven in.
(USA sales only)