Elgar Sea Pictures; Symphony No 2

Vivid reminders of a great artist

Author: 
Andrew Achenbach

Elgar Sea Pictures; Symphony No 2

  • Sea Pictures
  • Symphony No. 2
  • Symphony No. 9, 'From the New World'
  • (The) Rite of Spring, '(Le) sacre du printemps'
  • Zavod, '(The) Foundry'

Aficionados will recall that Svetlanov’s red-blooded Elgar Second enjoyed a short lease of life on the old HMV Concert Classics label (2/82 – nla). I thorougly enjoyed reacquainting myself with a reading of palpable dedication and genuine freshness. It’s not without its foibles: the opening movement is too headlong, brass timbre will not be all to tastes, and the live recording is crusty and lacking in body. However Svetlanov imparts memorable depth of feeling to the Larghetto’s solemn processional, the third movement’s trio section has exactly the right pliancy (its nightmarish apex more hair-raising than many), and the finale is most persuasively paced, leading to a radiant epilogue.

What really marks out this coupling as a collector’s item is Sea Pictures. Singing in Russian, Larisa Avdeyeva displays such conviction and vibrancy of tone that one can even forgive a memory lapse preceding her climactic top A in ‘The Swimmer’. ‘Sabbath morning at sea’ has real grandeur, and the Moscow audience’s enthusiastic response is rewarded with an encore of ‘Where corals lie’ (even more touching and characterful than first time round). No Elgarian with an open mind should fail to investigate this fascinating document.

A similar communicative ardour enhances Svetlanov’s New World, an interpretation of vigour and spontaneity that triumphs over numerous weird shifts in perspective (nowhere more distracting than at the cor anglais’s initial entry in the Largo). The finale launches with tremendous attack, yet the clarinet-led second subject is most songfully poignant and the theatricality of the closing pages had me grinning from ear to ear: Svetlanov even tweaks the final chord in favour of a bare-faced fortissimo.

Intermittent peak distortion notwithstanding, the Melodiya engineers struck a more natural balance in the earlier Rite. This dates from May 1965, shortly after Svetlanov’s three-year tenure at the Bolshoi, so it’s hardly surprising that his conception has an authentic whiff of greasepaint about it. More than that, there’s an uncompromising honesty, earthy tang and abundant musicality about this performance that I found hugely refreshing (no trace of slick virtuosity or empty display here!). Mosolov’s Iron Foundry receives aptly seismic treatment, without degenerating into pitiless din. Plenty to savour: I look forward to more Svetlanov from the Melodiya archives.

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