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Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016

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Nobilmente: Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin performing Elgar’s First Symphony

Morlot’s Dutilleux series. Philip Clark L’arbre des songes – selected comparison: Capuçon, French Rad Orch, Chung (8/02) (VIRG) 545502-2 Symphony No 1 – selected comparison: Seattle SO, Morlot (SSM) SSM1001

Elgar Symphony No 1, Op 55 Staatskapelle Berlin / Daniel Barenboim Decca F 478 9353DH (51 • DDD)

Barenboim’s long association with, and love for, Elgar has effectively made it part of his musical DNA. He understands its particulars and, to put it simply, he knows how it goes. And because he is a master he has somehow communicated all of that, both in practical and spiritual terms, to an orchestra for whom it is relatively unfamiliar. That is the really startling achievement here and it manifests itself in playing that is as exciting as it is nuanced and which can turn on a sixpence because Barenboim and his players ‘read’ each other so well. That which might sound mannered in other hands (though it must be said that Barenboim has matured and refined his ‘expressivity’) is here so naturally achieved.

He has mastered the long and difficult first movement chronicling the turbulence of an era – indeed of life in gramophone.co.uk general – in which tiny oases of peace and tranquillity open up as if recalling happier times. The scoring is so fragrant and beautiful in these Elysian departures and the subtle balancing of leading and accompanying voices makes for some unique Elgarian colours. Indeed, the recording balance generally (producer Andrew Keener) is exemplary, the ear constantly arrested by telling details so often absorbed into the overall richness of Elgar’s soundscape.

But to return again to the structure of this first movement, it is Barenboim’s command of transition, of ebb and flow, storm and stress, that carries all before it. Those fleeting reveries are soon buffeted by the prevailing winds of change and Barenboim does not spare the rhetoric

GRAMOPHONE AWards 2016 35

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