Martyn Brabbins / Flemish Radio Orchestra

Edward Elgar: Symphony No. 1; The Kingdom: Prelude

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On this 2007 Glossa release, Martyn Brabbins and the Flemish Radio Orchestra deliver a compelling traversal of Edward Elgar's Symphony No. 1 in A flat major and the robust Prelude from his seldom performed oratorio, The Kingdom, so fans of British symphonic music and audiophiles should take special note of this SACD. Brabbins has established a fine reputation as a conductor of 20th century music, and though his performances of contemporary works might mark him as a champion of the avant-garde and post-modernism, he has also acquired expertise in the Romantic and post-Romantic repertoire. This performance of the Symphony No. 1 may not replace the classic recording by Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on EMI, but it is still a vital account that holds its own, and the sumptuous sound of the Flemish Radio Orchestra more than makes up for any questions raised by the interpretation. Brabbins takes tempos briskly, and his beat is fairly sharp, even in slower sections, so on the whole this seems like a no-nonsense, cerebral, and unsentimental reading, with little of the wafting languor and veiled quality that made Boult's account feel nostalgic and even haunted by the Edwardian past. Instead, Brabbins' reading seems more up-to-date and direct in declamation, intellectual in argument, and even combative in places, and the impressionistic sweetness that many associate with this work is substituted with a rather dry-eyed sobriety. But the sonorities of this capable orchestra are vibrant and penetrating, and the extreme clarity of the DSD recording allows every note to be heard, even in the densest textures. Admirers of Elgar's masterful orchestration will thrill to hear every detail of the score, and enjoy the fantastic depth of the recording.

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