Elgar: Symphony No. 2

Vladimir Ashkenazy / Sydney Symphony Orchestra

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Elgar: Symphony No. 2 Review

by Mike D. Brownell

Far less frequently performed and recorded than the darker First Symphony, Edward Elgar's Second Symphony in E flat major is a work written on an exceptionally grand scale. Elgar scored the symphony for an extended triple woodwind section, extra percussion, and even two harps. The first movement is filled with quintessential English pomp. This may be in part responsible for the unfavorable reactions that some have on first listening to this symphony. Beyond the first movement, however, Elgar's gifts shine through with a marvelously lyrical, somber slow movement; a nimble, rhythmically sophisticated third movement rondo; and a boisterous but not pompous finale. Vladimir Ashkenazy, who was appointed principal conductor of the Sydney Symphony in 2009, puts his orchestra through its paces in this vibrant Exton album. Presented on a hybrid SACD, listeners enjoying Ashkenazy's performance in multichannel surround will be treated to a spacious, enveloping sound filled with subtle detail and nuance, broad dynamic scope, and clear balance within the massive orchestra. Ashkenazy plays down the symphony's moments of stuffiness and accentuates the work's lyricism, harmonic richness, and abundance of colors achieved. The Sydney Orchestra rises to the occasion both technically and musically, providing listeners with an ideal recorded choice for this often overlooked symphony.

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