Home » Projects » Elgar: Symphony no. 1 » Album

Track Listing:

1
Elgar: Symphony no. 1 / Andante. Nobilmente e semplice
 
2
Elgar: Symphony no. 1 / Allegro molto
 
3
Elgar: Symphony no. 1 / Adagio
 
4
Elgar: Symphony no. 1 / Lento - Adagio
 

Daniel Barenboim :

Elgar: Symphony no. 1


Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin Record Elgar's Symphony no. 1 for Decca
The conductor's second Elgar album for the label is released on March 11, 2016

For their second album featuring the music of Edward Elgar, Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin have recorded the composer's first symphony, following a recording of his second symphony two years ago.

"I hold that the symphony without a program is the highest development of art." With these words, spoken in a University of Birmingham lecture in 1905, Elgar declared himself as belonging to the Brahmsian tradition of the abstract symphony, already thought moribund by many, rather than allying himself with Richard Strauss, the modern master of the symphonic poem. And three years later, in Manchester in December 1908, there took place the first performance of the first of his own two great symphonies. In it, he told a friend, "there is no program beyond a wide experience of human life with a great charity (love) and a massive hope in the future".

But if the work has no program as such, it certainly traces an emotional progression; and it does so through a highly unusual tonal scheme. The great Elgar conductor Sir Adrian Boult was once told that it was written after somebody had bet the composer that he could not write a symphony in two keys at once: and, odd though it is, this anecdote rings true. This "Symphony in A flat major" has a first Allegro which is clearly in the remote key of D minor, turning in the development section to the even more remote key of D major, but with an introduction and final section in A flat major. It has a scherzo in F sharp minor with a trio in B flat major, both keys occupying a kind of middle ground between the two opposing tonal centers of A flat and D; and a slow movement which comes down firmly on the side of D, this time major. And then it has a finale which begins once more in D minor, not just in the slow introduction but in the main Allegro as well, and which turns to A flat major again only towards the end. On the page this may seem just so much algebra. But as the outline of an expressive scheme it comes off beautifully: how much more massive that "hope in the future" seems when the Symphony ends in a key which, while satisfactorily rounding off the work as a whole, opens up new vistas in its immediate surroundings.

The orchestral writing is indeed one of the most remarkable features of the Symphony. Elgar was himself a former professional violinist, and he scored the work with inside knowledge, with the utmost skill, and with fastidious attention to detail (his orchestral finesse is even more apparent when, as in this recording, the orchestra is arranged as he would have expected it, with the first violins to the left and the second violins to the right of the conductor). This bears fruit in the clarity of even the most densely packed passages of development in the outer movements; in the lightness of touch of the scherzo, with its trio which Elgar once asked an orchestra to play "like something you hear down by the river"; in the depth of tone of the serene slow movement, achieved through carefully calculated subdivisions of the string sections and restrained reinforcement from the wind; and not least in the grandiloquence - but never bombast - of the final return of the motto theme and the work's conclusion. In the same lecture series as that in which he espoused the cause of the abstract symphony, Elgar referred to the modern symphony orchestra as "the mighty engine, the vehicle of the highest form of art known to the world". As the First Symphony shows, few if any were greater masters of that engine than Elgar.Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin Record Elgar's Symphony no. 1 for Decca

The conductor's second Elgar album for the label is released on March 11, 2016

For their second album featuring the music of Edward Elgar, Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin have recorded the composer's first symphony, following a recording of his second symphony two years ago.

"I hold that the symphony without a program is the highest development of art." With these words, spoken in a University of Birmingham lecture in 1905, Elgar declared himself as belonging to the Brahmsian tradition of the abstract symphony, already thought moribund by many, rather than allying himself with Richard Strauss, the modern master of the symphonic poem. And three years later, in Manchester in December 1908, there took place the first performance of the first of his own two great symphonies. In it, he told a friend, "there is no program beyond a wide experience of human life with a great charity (love) and a massive hope in the future".

But if the work has no program as such, it certainly traces an emotional progression; and it does so through a highly unusual tonal scheme. The great Elgar conductor Sir Adrian Boult was once told that it was written after somebody had bet the composer that he could not write a symphony in two keys at once: and, odd though it is, this anecdote rings true. This "Symphony in A flat major" has a first Allegro which is clearly in the remote key of D minor, turning in the development section to the even more remote key of D major, but with an introduction and final section in A flat major. It has a scherzo in F sharp minor with a trio in B flat major, both keys occupying a kind of middle ground between the two opposing tonal centers of A flat and D; and a slow movement which comes down firmly on the side of D, this time major. And then it has a finale which begins once more in D minor, not just in the slow introduction but in the main Allegro as well, and which turns to A flat major again only towards the end. On the page this may seem just so much algebra. But as the outline of an expressive scheme it comes off beautifully: how much more massive that "hope in the future" seems when the Symphony ends in a key which, while satisfactorily rounding off the work as a whole, opens up new vistas in its immediate surroundings.

The orchestral writing is indeed one of the most remarkable features of the Symphony. Elgar was himself a former professional violinist, and he scored the work with inside knowledge, with the utmost skill, and with fastidious attention to detail (his orchestral finesse is even more apparent when, as in this recording, the orchestra is arranged as he would have expected it, with the first violins to the left and the second violins to the right of the conductor). This bears fruit in the clarity of even the most densely packed passages of development in the outer movements; in the lightness of touch of the scherzo, with its trio which Elgar once asked an orchestra to play "like something you hear down by the river"; in the depth of tone of the serene slow movement, achieved through carefully calculated subdivisions of the string sections and restrained reinforcement from the wind; and not least in the grandiloquence - but never bombast - of the final return of the motto theme and the work's conclusion. In the same lecture series as that in which he espoused the cause of the abstract symphony, Elgar referred to the modern symphony orchestra as "the mighty engine, the vehicle of the highest form of art known to the world". As the First Symphony shows, few if any were greater masters of that engine than Elgar.