I had the great fortune that, on April 3, 2010, I attended a performance of Sir Edward Elgar's Symphony Number 2 conducted by Sir Mark Elder (of the Halle Orchestra) by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It is, to my recollection, one of the best, if not the best, performance of music I have ever attended. Mark Elder's interpretation of this most difficult yet most lovely symphony is by far the most sensitively handled and the most accomplished. It was indeed a stunning revelation.
First, I would be remiss were I not to assert that Sir Mark Elder freely reveals and exudes a love for music that I have never seen in a conductor. He adores it, is not afraid to show it, however properly 'English' he is. Sir Mark Elder is a truly loving human being.
This being said, the recording by the Halle Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder of Elgar's Symphony Number 2 is, in my estimation, the best I have ever heard.
I have two other recordings. One is by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti. This is a fine recording and as a denizen of Illinois I am indeed a great fan of Solti, long-time conductor of the CSO, though indeed the recording is flawed. The effort is simply too much willed into being, an effort of will, the sound forced, the result not entirely beautiful. It is a less than natural interpretation simply because the performers 'will' a perfection into existence, when such a venture is destined to be not entirely successful. The Penguin Guide to Music says that this recording by Solti/LPO is the finest, yet I do beg to differ. Elder's recording with the Halle Orchestra is superior. It is, indeed, a perfect recording of a most difficult piece of music. It is not willed to be, but is simply a musical expression filled with a great tenderness and love, and deep respect for the letter of the music.
I also have a recording of Jeffery Tate conducting the Symphony Number 2 with the London Symphony Orchestra. This is a fine recording, as is the Solti. It is a grand attempt at making the piece breathe, with an infusion of tenderness not unlike that of Sir Mark Elder's. But again, there is here, as there is with the Solti recording, a forced quality which, inversely, results in a sometimes ragtag result.
Indeed, Sir Mark Elder is the finest interpreter of this most vexing yet most beautiful piece of music.
If you have not been to a performance of music conducted by Sir Mark Elder, let me tell you that you must schedule one as soon as you are able. He is that good!