ELGAR Symphony No 2. Carissima. Mina. Chanson de matin
Back in May 2015 I reviewed Petrenko’s interpretation of Elgar’s First Symphony and Cockaigne, remarking on the rhythmical dynamism of the recording and its bright recording quality. If anything, I am even more impressed by the Russian’s reading of the Second Symphony, which has a clarity of sound to match the luxuriance of Elgar’s orchestration. Indeed, the RLPO, on great form, provide a sumptuous array of textures with an ensemble that is crisp and incisive. It is so good to hear every note of the athletic brass counterpoint in the horns and trumpets and the lithe filigree of Elgar’s careful doublings between wind and strings.
Petrenko is, for the most part, spot-on with his tempos. The recapitulation in the first movement is perhaps a tad fast but the sense of forward motion is always compelling. The funereal spirit of the second movement vividly captures that deeply intense, personal sense of melancholy Elgar undoubtedly felt at the death of Edward VII in 1910. Indeed, so intense is the impression of unconsolable sorrow that the music seems at times to surpass that of Mahler or Strauss. Yet this is counterbalanced magnificently by the Schwung of the noble, optimistic second-subject material, which Petrenko never allows to run away with itself. The mercurial Scherzo, arguably the most harmonically experimental of all the movements, also evinces a quicksilver translucency and a breathless energy which suits its numinous character.
Of all the movements, however, it is the finale where Petrenko is at his best. Some may find his tempo of the second subject a little on the slow side but I find its swagger and confidence infectious. Besides, it is well judged given that the development which follows feels far more controlled than other more rushed and disorderly interpretations I have heard over the years. Best of all, however, is the scintillating final climax and the valediction of the closing bars which, to use Elgar’s description, most eloquently depicts ‘the eternal issue of the soul’s pilgrimage’. The three miniatures – Carissima, Mina and Chanson de matin, recorded back in September 2009 – are a delightful bonus.