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Sketches for Symphony 3 Import
During the last year of his life, Elgar amassed some 130 pages of sketches for a projected Third Symphony. Some sections were orchestrated, including the work's gripping first 17 bars, while other ideas survived in various states of development. British composer Anthony Payne has taken these sketches and created a framework so that Elgar's final thoughts can be heard in a viable context. Payne makes clear that he is dealing not with probabilities but possibilities. Through a combination of careful detective work, educated guessing, and recomposing when necessary, Payne illuminates the potential of Elgar's ideas, and ingenuously sublimates his creative contributions to Elgar's lofty, upholstered idiom. The performance, too, is a labor of love and painstaking preparation, and should be heard by all Elgarians. --Jed Distler
The test is how much of this music is moving and memorable and returning to this disc after an interval of some ten years I was struck by how much of it I recalled and was newly moved by. Despite the inevitable impression of the symphony lacking some cohesion, there are some uniquely beautiful fragments in each movement such as the angular, muscular first subject which opens the symphony and the equally typical, melting second subject with its falling intervals. The Scherzo has a delicate, crepuscular Spanish atmosphere reminding us that Elgar had an affinity with Latin sensuousness to complement his bristly British sturdiness. Best of all, I think is the Adagio featuring a noble brass theme combined with a Mahlerian breadth and tenderness. I concur with other commentators that the last movement is a mite ramshackle; a rumbustious martial tune melds awkwardly into a rather repetitive development before the allegro marches into a more reflective, "new, visionary world".
The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays well under Andrew Davis although I was conscious that they made more of the dreamier moments than those which called for more fire and passion. I have not yet heard Paul Daniel's account for Naxos and wonder if that has more spark, but find much to enjoy and admire in this very welcome and courageous performance.
It was an exciting experience for me to hear this unearthed music for the first time. Payne's completion (let's drop the chicken-s*** "elaboration" moniker, shall we?), definitely passes the "sounds like Elgar" test. As a bona fide composer, as opposed to a scholar, Payne demonstrates an acute intuitive affinity for this music, and it's difficult to tell where Elgar's sketches stop and Payne's pencil starts. He conveys Elgar's form, phrasing and orchestration splendidly, though Payne seems to have ameliorated some of the problematic aspects of the latter (e.g., Elgar's tendency to overdouble lines and to overuse violins).
Much of the music is memorable, and all is worth hearing if you enjoy Elgar. It's like a lost letter from a dead loved one. This 3rd Symphony conveys Elgar's transition from the pomp-and-circumstance, Rule Brittania, sound world of his youth to the more melancholy, nostalgic music of his post-WWI years. It's not a brash, exuberant projection onto the world, but an inner musing of an old man reflecting on the long past, happiest years of his life. The bombastic, yet poignant, fourth movement is my favorite of the work. Ironically it contains the least from Elgar and the most from Payne. But the soft ending is an especially fitting epilogue to this valedictory work, given the biographical circumstances whence it comes.
I've focused on the music more than the performance here, but a small detail is that Andrew Davis employs the traditional Romantic split positioning of the first and second violins, thereby preserving the antiphonical effects that Elgar/Payne occasionally employ. An example is at 0:55 of the Fourth Movement, when the second theme of the A group is introduced.
In a word, the proper title would be ANTHONY PAYNE: A SYMPHONY ON THEMES OF EDWARD ELGAR.
Now if this interests you, fine - go ahead and buy it.
But I don't appreciate the stunt of putting ELGAR SYMPHONY #3 in big letters on the album's cover, because no such animal can be found on the disc.
In the world of art, where Constable trades for millions, they might even cut out the haystack and frame it separately. But no such courtesy or piety for Elgar!
The two stars are purely for the performance.
I hope Mr Payne continues to live happily in the borrowed light of Elgar, hearing HIS OWN SYMPHONY performed and recorded so often, despite the false pretences.