Hugh Canning
The Sunday Times
May 2013

This exciting disc looks like the second instalment of an emerging Hallé/Elder Sibelius cycle. It was this orchestra—under its great music director Hans Richter—that gave the D major symphony its first British performance in 1905, and Sibelius remained a cornerstone of the Manchester orchestra’s repertoire under Barbirolli. Like his famous predecessor, Elder favours expansive tempi and rich, dark sonorities—the opening of Pohjola’s Daughter (1906) establishes a brooding atmosphere of eventual doom from the start—emphasising, in the symphony as well as the tone poems, the composer’s melancholy as much as his exuberant nationalism (although his debt to Tchaikovsky, a kindred spirit, remains prominent in the Allegro moderato finale). Under Elder’s nurturing aegis, the Hallé strings sound more enormous than ever in the slow movement, but they can scamper nimbly in the Vivacissimo scherzo, to beguiling effect. The cumulative power of the playing—and Elder’s certain grasp of the symphony’s architecture—builds to a powerful climax in this rapturously applauded live performance, recorded last year. The tone poems were captured earlier in the studio—the sound has that extra bit of polish—but they are welcome additions to the burgeoning Elder/Hallé discography.