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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The sketches for Symphony No. 3, elaborated by Anthony PAYNE (b.1936) [57:38]
Edward ELGAR
Pomp & Circumstance March No. 6 in G minor, the sketches completed and orchestrated by Anthony PAYNE [8:41]
Sapporo Symphony Orchestra/Tadaaki Otaka
rec. Sapporo Concert Hall, Kitara, Japan, 30-31 March 2007 DDD
SIGNUM SIGCD118 [66:21]
Experience Classicsonline

This is the first Elgar symphony CD by both a Japanese conductor and orchestra, but Tadaaki Otaka already has sound Elgar credentials, having recorded Symphony 1 with the National Orchestra of Wales in 1995 (Bis CD-727). With his Japanese orchestra here he performs Symphony 3 as reconstructed by Anthony Payne.

In Otaka’s hands the first movement opens with weight and might, its first theme parades like a juggernaut, its second part (tr. 1 0:31) pushing forward more strenuously, after which the soothing second theme (1:11) is all the more refreshing and enchanting. It too has a second part notable for its largamente broadening out (2:10). The development (6:18) opens with some dreamy material which intriguingly expands the mood of the second theme. A resolute March (9:09), with plenty of bite in Otaka’s horns, leads to a maestoso climax (10:44) which I felt Otaka might have marked more. However, in the recapitulation he brings more warmth and presence to the second theme and in the coda he seems to suggest it’s a natural evolution when first and second themes are clearly shown to start to link from 14:00. At the very end the upward glissando recalls that at the same point in Symphony 2.

I compared the recording also made in 2007 by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox (Chandos CHSA 5057). Here are the comparative timings:

                 I             II          III           IV         Total
Otaka     16:11      9:48      15:05      16:34      57:38
Hickox    15:33      9:51      15:08      15:03      55:35

Hickox’s first theme seems broader in outlook, with a sense of both celebration and defiance about it. His second theme, treated more freely than Otaka, similarly has more character, more reflection, lilt and grace, light and shade about it while its largamente extension has more glow and splendour. Otaka is content to be calm and lyrical, fresh and flowing, but his largamente is more formal than ardent. Hickox brings more of a feel of mystery and shadowy quality to the development’s dreamy material. Generally then Otaka’s approach is more direct, Hickox’s more suggestive.

The second movement Scherzo has from Otaka a bashfully winsome main theme on first violins with trilling tambourine embellishment followed by a first interlude (tr. 2 1:00) of fragmentary illusions and an individual viola solo, all rather like Dorabella in the Enigma Variations. But I feel Otaka’s clear and dance like performance has overmuch presence here. Hickox finds a more gauzy, summery dream like quality from the outset and has a more buoyant first interlude without disturbing the overall mood. He also catches with more assured bite the later, freer treatment of the main material and the first interlude theme flaring out in the brass. Nevertheless Otaka’s second interlude (5:23) with its airy leaps has a refreshing sense of opening out. The coda features wisps of solo violin with the main theme, benign musing and a magical close. Otaka brings a feel of wry observation appropriate to a scherzo. Hickox more beguilingly seems happy to immerse himself in its self contained magical world.

For Elgar the start of the slow movement was intended to “open up some vast bronze doors into something strangely unfamiliar” but more significant is the soft repeat featuring solo viola which shows the individual’s apprehension after awe. Otaka makes the contrast clear, though Hickox is more imposingly stern in the opening and shadowy in the repeat. The impassioned tutti loud passages are given more tension by Hickox. The second theme (tr. 3 4:02) offers solace in a reverential manner, but equally memorable from Otaka is the neatly phrased transitional passage with muted strings that precedes it. Hickox gives this more humanity, more sense of condolence and is more stately in the rounded comeliness of the second theme, but Otaka’s homely directness here is engaging in its greater freshness. This characteristic applies as well to Otaka’s wanly anguished recapitulation and powerful climax, if not as solemn as Hickox’s. Also intriguing are the demisemiquaver risings like a new growth that follow the second theme, these being entirely Payne’s invention. The second theme is recapitulated in splendid fashion, gradually more fully and then again lightly scored but what lingers in your mind is the close with solo viola marked ‘estinto’, barely perceptible, like a dying breath, staring stonily into infinity.

The finale progresses ingeniously and attractively with something of the parade of themes found in Elgar’s Symphony 2 though not its sense of summation. With Otaka you note particularly the second of the first batch of themes (tr. 4 0:59), at first soft and melting then, marked largamente, grand and warm. Even further developed is the second theme of the second group (2:02) with its nobilmente and maestoso reappearances while an episode in G minor (6:50) is a kind of minor reflection of it. The recapitulation is stimulating and you appreciate an allusion to The Wagon Passes (from 14:06) and a closing reference to the symphony’s opening before an eerie tam-tam knell.

Hickox’s finale, revealed at a faster sweep, has more pzazz and virtuosity, right from the sheer splendour and fullness of the opening brass fanfare. There’s more swagger to his first theme and courtly smoothness to the second of the first batch. Similarly he brings more bounce to the second theme of the second group and a richly regal quality for its maestoso appearance. His G minor episode is fluent and recapitulation plush. But in his own way, which is to reveal the movement’s progression more steadily, Otaka is very satisfying, even if he doesn’t match Hickox’s panache. His opening has less splash but more grandeur. He achieves lucid clarity of presentation. He is more lyrical than Hickox in the second theme largamente of the first batch while his second theme of the second group has at first a jaunty spirit, then richness in its nobilmente and expansiveness in its maestoso return. He brings a more volatile quality to the G minor episode and his gradual crescendo approaching the recapitulation is very effective, as is later the impression of a massive wagon passing.

The Pomp and Circumstance March No. 6 (tr. 5), originally intended as the last of Elgar’s set, existed only in a number of incomplete sketches which Payne has skilfully merged to create a fascinating piece, well worth placing alongside the others. Elaboration would be an appropriate term here too, not least because the end product is more elaborate than its predecessors, no Elgar recording of which timed at more than 4:33 for March No. 3. Otaka’s No. 6 times at 8:41. Not here just the standard pattern of March, Trio, both repeated and then coda, but an introduction which floats the March material, a homely second theme (1:38) as a kind of tail and then a scherzo like Con spirito section (2:11) in 6/8 time making a marked contrast to the familiar 2/4 of the March.

Otaka makes the March suitably bracing and second theme pleasantly relaxed and endearing. His Con Spirito section is pleasingly contrasted both dynamically and with, for example from 3:11, the simultaneous falling melody and rising bass clear; but its fully scored passages, like the first marked Giocoso (2:23) seem too stern. His Trio is a little stiff, perhaps a shade too reverent. His coda, however, makes a spirited send off and from 8:08 a supercharged version of the March seems naturally to have kinship with the close of Elgar’s most famous March No. 1, to which Payne subtly incorporates a quotation.

But the National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox account is more cogent. His faster tempo, timing at 7:54 against Otaka’s 8:41, fuses the sections of the piece more convincingly. In particular the greater breadth of his phrasing in the Trio gives it more dignity and its finely burnished return has more nobility. He also more clearly and satisfyingly points the contrast in the March of falling melody and rising bass and vice versa. This is aided by being recorded in surround sound. His Con spirito section is appropriately lighter, more scherzo like. But Otaka has the advantage of Hickox in one respect. Despite Chandos’ claim on its disc’s documentation, the earlier released Hickox’s is not the ‘premiere recording’ but Otaka’s is, by 3 months.

These rescue jobs by Payne honour both the variety of Elgar’s late invention and Payne’s capacity to fashion it into intriguing and worthwhile musical experiences. Payne’s book, ‘Elgar’s Third Symphony, the story of the reconstruction’ meticulously records his work but it’s better to listen to performances. As I’ve indicated there are many good things in these accounts by Otaka. They are well considered, played and recorded with vivid clarity but ultimately they aren’t as persuasive as Hickox’s whose recording in turn also benefits from the greater amplitude of surround sound. Also there are two other significant factors. The Japanese orchestra doesn’t quite catch the Elgarian inflections as assuredly as the Welsh one and Otaka’s approach is more concentrated and studious whereas Hickox is able both to relax more and be more dashing at times.

Michael Greenhalgh


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