MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

alternatively AmazonUK   AmazonUS



Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Symphony No.1, Op.55 (1908) [51:57]
Sonata for Organ, Op.26 (transcr. for orchestra by Gordon Jacob (1895-1984)) (1895) [26:05]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
rec. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, 22-23 May 2006
CHANDOS CHSA 5049 [78:12]

You know how, in the old days, when you put the needle/stylus, whatever you want to call it on a record, and from the start it just felt ‘right’? Maybe not, but either way that’s the feeling I have with this new release of Elgar’s Symphony No.1. I do have to admit to a certain pre-programmed predilection for certain aspects of the recording. Brangwyn Hall was one of the best locations we played in when I was a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales under Arthur Davison, and I just love the sweet shoebox resonance of that interior. I also loved the sound of the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra, now even better as the BBC National Orchestra of Wales – I suppose it’s something to which my red blood corpuscles respond having grown up with them as my principal concert-going experience as a youth. I am also delighted to see that their current leader is the incredible Lesley Hatfield, who, along with her horn playing brother, was at the R.A.M. at the same time as me. In fact all three of us even shared a poverty-stricken flat for a while just south of the Broadwater Farm Estate – that strange time in 1985 when the place was still scattered with burnt-out cars after that dreadful riot. I seem to remember her surviving on Ryvita and tea trying to save enough to buy or pay for ‘the’ violin, and it seems all that suffering paid off in the end. 

Enough of the flurry of personal recollections this CD has kicked up. This recording has of course been released as a celebration of Elgar’s 150th anniversary, and follows on from Hickox’s 2005 excellent recording of the second Symphony and ‘In the South’. The ‘3rd’ Symphony and Pomp and Circumstance March No. 6 as realised by Anthony Payne are apparently in the pipeline, so a full set will soon be available for completists. There are of course a number of classic and new recordings against which this newcomer will have to be compared. Barbirolli of course in that dramatic 1970 recording on BBC Legends, Boult arguably on that new Lyrita CD now rather than the old mono 1949 taping which is also something rather remarkable, Solti on Decca or Haitink on EMI – you can compare and contrast, but in the end it’s like what Gareth Morris called the flute ‘game’: chopping and changing instruments and headjoints to try and find some kind of elusive perfection. Elgar’s Symphony No.1 is one of those pieces which has that elusive quality on record. Transported to realms beyond imagining in the concert hall, it is difficult to re-create that sense of beauty and wonder with the electronics in your front room, no matter how expensive.

Hans Richter, the leading German conductor, directed the first performance and hailed the work as ‘the greatest symphony of modern times’, and indeed, even today it has a pioneering spirit equal to anything by Mahler. It asserts Elgar’s deeply felt ‘massive hope for the future’, and it is immediately clear that the composer threw everything into achieving an expression of this inspired optimism. What I like so much about this new recording is the reflection of that ‘massive hope’ in every aspect of the performance and production. State of the art 5-channel sound is about as close as we’ll get to actually being in the concert hall for the time being, so with that advantage there can be no doubts about the quality of the recording. Chandos have captured the BBC NOoW with marvellous depth and power, the balance having that ‘best seat in the house’ live quality, dynamics which make you wish you had your own desert island on which to play the thing at full volume, and the kind of colour and detail you remember discovering after your first belated visit to the optician. 

The opening of the work is one of those ones which bring you back every time, like that of Mozart’s Requiem or Bach’s St. John Passion. Elgar’s secret is almost revealed all at once – the ‘big tune’ appearing softly after two enigmatic rumbles from the orchestra. With Hickox, the louder ‘repeat’ at 1:47 sounds as if you are hearing that great theme for the first time – the initial statement as if in a dream, that moment just before waking. There’s a fair dose of Tchaikovsky in the turbulent passages which follow, but that British subdued fervour and emotional passion always holds the upper hand. Hickox is always in complete control, painting grand scenery with the colours so beloved of the composer – characterful solos and choirs of winds, strings like billowing curtains of creamy milk and brass kicking through the whole crowd like neatly-dressed hooligan barrow-boys. Intense discipline is never a dampening factor in the sense of drive and energy in the music, and the ‘Star Wars’ theme and syncopated stone-throwing in the second Allegro Molto movement are allowed full cry. The same attacca idea which heralds ‘Nimrod’ brings the repose of the Adagio, which allows the orchestra to flood the Brangwyn Hall floor with amorous tenderness. Little chamber-music touches with some gorgeous mini-solos turn what might have been an over-long wallow into a fine exploration of emotions both complex and straightforward, and whatever we’ve been through, there’s always that nobility of spirit which triumphs over all else. The final movement is like a symphonic poem in its own right, opening with suggestions of mystery and pastoral naughtiness, teasing the ear with references to previous musical moments. Rising bass lines encourage that sense of hope, the ride home. The penultimate romp is interrupted by that revelation of a soft centre, a stunningly constructed piece of melody and counterpoint, beautifully lit with resonant orchestration and a sparkling harp. The orchestra never quite recovers from this, and even the glorious return of the main theme is at first garlanded with reinforced harp notes, struggling to break free of the verdant tangle of feral nature and succeeding only in the last few bars – resonating on in the mind long after the concierge has turned out the lights on Brangwyn’s Empire Panels. 

The Symphony No.1 is coupled here with an orchestral version of the Sonata for organ – an instrument Elgar had played from an early age. Elgar wrote the work in 1895 for a recital at Worcester Cathedral, and appears to have been a rush job akin to his Concert Allegro for solo piano, leaving the poor soloist little time to prepare for the intended event. In the 1940s Sir Adrian Boult recommended Gordon Jacob for the task of transcribing the sonata for orchestra, the results being broadcast in 1947 but subsequently forgotten. Jacob was a composer in his own right, and renowned for his expertise in orchestration – he was after all a teacher of the subject at the Royal College of Music. This sympathetic and stylish translation of the sonata into a re-creation of Elgar’s own orchestral sound-world not only brings the work to a wider audience, but also underlines its affinities with the composer’s later and better-known music. The Organ Sonata indeed plumbs lesser depths than the Symphony on this disc, but is, like a stick of Blackpool rock, Elgar from beginning to end and through to the core. 

I would dearly love to be able to say there was some moan or caveat attached to this new CD, but at the risk of having rivals run riot with my reviewers’ ranking in the subjective objectivity stakes I have to say it’s just a wonderful thing to have on your shelf or in your pocket. Sure, there are all those other lovely recordings out there, and nobody is asking you to dump old favourites or historical treasures. With this disc however, some of those golden gems might just find themselves under a few more layers of dust than they’ve been accustomed to. 

Dominy Clements 



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing



Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.