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ELGAR: Symphony No. 1; Cockaigne (In London Town) Overture – Stockholm Philharmonic/ Sakari Oramo – BIS

ELGAR: Symphony No. 1; Cockaigne (In London Town) Overture – Stockholm Philharmonic/ Sakari Oramo – BIS multichannel SACD BIS-1939, 67:17 [Distr. by Naxos] (8/12/14) ***1/2:

Elgar began to sketch this symphony around 1900. But other priorities intruded, and one of the sketches became the Cockaigne Overture, which is also included on this disc. The Symphony No. 1 is one of two symphonies Elgar composed, and its first performance was met enthusiastically by an audience in Manchester and later in London.

There are about 20 recordings of this on disc, my favorite being the Boult. Originally the symphony was to be a tribute to General Charles Gordon, who gained fame after his disastrous defeat in Khartoum, but that idea was dropped. While there is no specific program for the symphony, Elgar said it was “a wide experience of human life with a great charity (love) and a massive hope in the future.”

The performance by the Stockholm Philharmonic, conducted by Sakari Oramo is a good one. It’s a bit more stately in tempo than other recordings I have heard, coming in a full four minutes faster than the Boult. The orchestra handles this music with skill, especially in the denser sections.

The popular Cockaigne Overture gets an upbeat performance, and I found the recording a bit more full than the rendering of the symphony. It was recorded more than a year after the Symphony No. 1.

The overall recording itself is quite good, but not a sonic showcase. The low end is present but not extended. The strings and brass sound realistic, and I feel the disc captures the sound of a live orchestra in a real space without undue sonic tricks or manipulations. The surrounds are used for ambiance, and we hear the Stockholm Concert Hall in all its glory.

This is a good performance and recording of the symphony, but I think I prefer the 1977 Boult and the 1979 Handley, both done with the London Philharmonic. On the other hand, the Cockaigne is excellent in this SACD and worthy of any collection.

—Mel Martin

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