ELGAR Symphony No. 2 / Barenboim 4786677
The surging, unquenchable energy of this account is obvious from the opening bars, which are borne on an irresistible flood of sound from the Berlin Staatskapelle, yet it's an energy that never threatens to overwhelm the symphony's lyrical core. Moments such as the quiet recall of the surging opening theme in one of the reflective episodes of the first movement's development are done with ravishing care by the Staatskapelle strings, while the second-movement funeral march is every bit the work's tragic heart, sculpted in massive Wagnerian paragraphs by Barenboim, with the oboe counter-melody that's threaded through its reprise beautifully done by the orchestra's principal, and sounding more touching and personal than I've ever heard it before. There are no holds barred in the "Scherzo" either, though the playing never loses its poise for a moment, and the finale is launched on the grandest possible scale, with unfailingly rich tone; right through to the properly elegiac coda, not a note is out of place. Every department of this fabulous orchestra seems to make a telling contribution to this performance at some point or other, and it's as much a triumph for the Staatskapelle as it is for its conductor.
. . . when Elgar says "presto", Barenboim really puts the foot down, making the third movement a veritable showpiece of technical virtuosity on the orchestra's part . . . this is a showstopper recording . . . Barenboim proves himself a true, career-long Elgarian and the soaring tuttis of the finale demonstrate all the things that good Elgar performances need -- an obvious love of the music and in this case a sense that there's a half-century of experience driving it. The last couple of minutes embody a real sense of resolution, making a deeper emotional impact than all that has preceded it, and clinching this performance of Symphony No 2 [excellently] . . .
. . . [the Staatskapelle Berlin] plays with great vigor and expressiveness . . . Barenboim is a sympathetic interpreter, and he gives the music ample passion and a nearly Wagnerian twilight radiance. However, Elgar's unsettling dissonances, passages of hectic activity, and the occasional harshness of his orchestration call for a frank assessment, and this performance is unsparing in communicating Elgar's anxieties. Barenboim's strong aptitude for late Romanticism, especially in his performances of Brahms, Bruckner, and Tchaikovsky, leads him naturally to Elgar . . . Highly recommended.
Daniel Barenboim's "Staatskapelle Berlin" are glorious in Elgar's kaleidoscopic first movement, the whole growing from a rich tutti Eb. That single note is magnificently coloured here, and the swaggering 12/8 theme has rarely sounded more like Strauss, striding ahead over rock-solid cellos and basses. This music can collapse if it's not kept under tight control, and the flowing speeds are well chosen. Barenboim the conductor excels in late-romantic Austro-German music, and he seems to be placing Elgar within the same tradition. The sinister interludes at the movement's heart feature some sublime divisi string playing . . . so much here sounds so, so right. The Larghetto's processional moves inexorably forward. Again, it's the lower strings that make the journey a compelling one. The Rondo's more capricious moments have an enticing breeziness thanks to perky woodwind playing . . . [the finale's] central section is fabulous, with refreshingly extrovert horns. The slow, poignant coda is beautifully done. This is a more than decent performance . . .
. . . [a] beautiful and moving account of the Second Symphony . . . Barenboim discovered Elgar through his early mentor and conductor, John Barbirolli, and something of that great Elgarian's flexibility of tempo and volatility are in evidence here. In these hands, you hear the echos of Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner and even Dvorák that reveal Elgar's closest inspiration . . . The gorgeous, silken string playing is something exceptional for Elgarians, but there is also plenty of Edwardian swagger in the brilliant rondo and majestic finale. A glorious disc.
. . . [this version sets Barenboim] among the finest Elgar interpreters . . . the Berliners take to it as if it were in their bloodstream . . . [Barenboim's playing style] is discreet, and suitable; but the important thing is that he saves it to make an expressive point, and therewith a structural one. He is sure-handed when clarifying the very subtle from Elgar's long opening movement, characteristically marked "Allegro vivace e nobilmente". He also knows when to give a section or a player a free hand, as with the beautifully played cello second subject of the first movement, "dolce e delicato", or the oboe solo that winds its way through the funeral tread of the "Larghetto" . . . Barenboim has, further, taken to heart Elgar's very scrupulous dynamic markings . . . Barenboim is careful in understanding the point and getting it across. This is a complicated movement, expressing complicated emotions, very well interpreted here. So is the "Rondo: Presto" . . . The relaxation of the finale is not without sections of furious contrapuntal complexity, again brilliantly negotiated by the Berlin players . . . It is an extremely demanding work; and Barenboim and the Berliners meet the demands magnificiently.
This is a superb, in fact I feel justified in calling it unequivocally a great, Elgar Two. It's difficult to know where to start in listing its excellences -- the playing of the Berlin Staatskapelle, without one ounce of unnecessary emotion yet performing as if they've had the music in their blood all their lives? The warmth and yet crystal clarity of the recording, in which every counterpoint, every subsidiary voice in Elgar's hugely complex score is perfectly audible and ideally balanced? But one must start and finish with Barenboim's interpretation, his first in this work for 40 years, with which he burnishes his already impressive and long-established credentials as an Elgarian . . . this is a marvellously full-blooded reading of the Symphony, full of drama and passion and rich-hued colour . . . [Barenboim] also understands perfectly Elgar's inwardness, the moment where the dynamic drops to "ppp" and he seems almost to lose himself in the hush of his own thought. Barenboim certainly makes the most of the haunted quality of the first movement's development section. The celebrated oboe counter-melody in the "Larghetto" has seldom sounded so plangent, while Barenboim's "scherzo" is demonic in its remorseless forward drive, preparing for a complex and exciting finale in which those slashing off-beat chords at the return of the theme have all the necessary impulsiveness and confidence. This must be one of the finest performances currently on offer, and a wonderful follow-up to Barenboim's Elgar Cello Concerto with Alisa Weilerstein, winner of this year's BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Year.
. . . [a] thoughtful and insightful Elgar, manifested here by his expansive treatment of the symphony's intimate moods -- very affecting in the darker passages of the opening movement, throughout the funeral march and at an unusually hushed ending. The rumbustious music is delivered with tremendous panache, and the Berlin orchestra plays like an instrument of Barenboim's -- and Elgar's -- spirit.
. . . [it's the German element that makes Barenboims] reading so special . . . [in the opening and closing movements, Barenboim is] lingering lovingly over some of the incidental detail, and encouraging his orchestra to produce some ravishing piano and pianissimo playing along the way.
. . . [Barenboim is] in total command of a personal but idiomatic reading . . . [here the Symphony] opens with a great release of energy and very purposeful strides, a confident composer in full and virtuoso form, the Staatskapelle Berlin relishing and shining in music grand and wistful, sometimes retreating to deep privacy and then re-emerging in full public view with thrilling rides of passion . . . Barenboim conducts a wonderfully gripping performance -- full of insight and character; spontaneity, too . . . it's all very compelling and convincing, the orchestra at-one with the music and with its conductor, whose detailing of the orchestration is pristine and which has been captured in superbly rich and vivid sound. And, sonically, Barenboim's placement of antiphonal violins (double basses on the left, behind the Firsts) is an aural plus-point, very much the arrangement that Elgar composed for. Barenboim's unfolding of the funereal second movement . . . is deeply felt and noble, intensely hushed and rising to a passionate climax -- to which Barenboim is typically meticulous with dynamics. The mercurial scherzo goes like the wind, brought off with agility and quicksilver responses, builds to restless tumult . . . and is paid-off with a scintillating coda. The finale -- amiable, anguished, majestic and contemplative -- initially finds Barenboim as an advocate on behalf of a positive Elgar before really digging in to his disquiet . . . From a possible glamorous summation, the music then sinks to reverie . . . and he is also arrow-like to the core of Elgar's soul . . . The end result comes with the strongest possible recommendation -- to committed Elgarians . . . and audiophiles -- and anyone who feels like taking the plunge: new Elgarians.
One of today's finest Elgar conductors fires on all cylinders in this pulsating performance.
Barenboim hat eine Hand für Elgars Musik . . . [die Einspielung] wird dem spezifischen Tonfall Elgars wunderbar gerecht -- es klingt farbenprächtig, hie und da rauschhaft schön wie bei Richard Strauss, aber stets schwingt jene Grandeur mit, die eine von des Komponisten liebste Vortragsbezeichnung suggeriert: Auch die zweite Symphonie hebt mit einem "Allegro vivace" an, das ausdrücklich "nobilmente" zu musizieren ist . . . voll ekstatischer Aufschwünge, aber auch erfüllt von Zweifeln, Grübeleien, tiefgründigen Gedanken. Ein symphonischer Kosmos, den die Berliner da aufbauen und in dessen Weiten man sich hörend gern verliert.
. . . [on reconnaît à la baguette de Barenboim la] faculté de guider la Staatskapelle Berlin dans une narration soyeuse et subtile, faite d'engagements puissants mais jamais débordants (dans l'"Allegro vivace e nobilmente"), de sens du lyrisme (splendides archets dans le "Larghetto") et de maîtrise des grandes structures. Du grand Barenboim donc.