Tadaaki Otaka has a firm admiration for Elgar. 'Like Bruckner' is how he described the symphonies in a radio interview, and from this performance you might guess that the famously spacious Austrian symphonist had a strong bearing on Otaka's conception. Otaka allows the music plenty of time to breathe, but at the same time he's good at drawing it all together. The first movement unfolds in a single expansive sweep without ever sounding hurried, while the wonderful Adagio builds to its awe-inspiring climax with a steady inevitability that strongly recalls Bruckner. Transitions are particularly well-engineered: anyone who still thinks Anthony Payne's 'elaboration' of Elgar's sketches creaks at the joints should make a point of hearing this performance.
There's no mistaking the feeling for the music in the Sapporo Orchestra's playing either. What I do think it lacks, however, is the nuanced emotional shading and expressive suppleness of Paul Daniel and the Bournemouth Symphony on Naxos—though Daniel can also be 'stout and steaky' (as Elgar splendidly put it) when the outer movements demand it. And for all his measured consistency, Otaka does sometimes tread a little ponderously. This is less true of his Pomp and Circumstance No 6, but Richard Hickox catches more of the true Elgarian spring and swagger there. Daniel's version of the Symphony is also better recorded: a brighter, slightly clearer sound, with more sense of space around the musicians.