The prize is Sibelius’s Third Symphony. Leading up to it is teenager Richard Strauss’s richly expressive Serenade for thirteen wind-players (as per Mozart’s K361), including four horns, languorously performed and beautifully played under Sir Mark’s unobtrusive and seated direction, well-filmed and -recorded in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, no audience of course.
Next, Beethoven’s C-minor Piano Concerto (No.3, Opus 37) with Isata Kanneh-Mason (Hallé debut). Elder (now standing) and his players conjure an introduction that leans to the lyrical and chugs with purpose. Kanneh-Mason’s account of the solo part is ‘first among equals’, clean-cut and sensitive, continuing introspectively into the cadenza, and making the slow movement the highlight, spacious and gently eloquent. Plenty of high spirits inform the Finale, although the clarinet-led episode is drawn out beyond itself as not belonging.
The Sibelius – a composer that Elder and the Hallé have fruitfully explored for the orchestra’s own label – is magnificent. The C-major Symphony 3 has a triptych of concise and rigorous movements. Elder’s tempos are well-judged, a sense of direction in the first movement enhanced by forward motion and rhythmic vitality yet without denuding inner sanctums, tension maintained. As heard on Kajanus’s ancient LSO recording, carrying Sibelius’s imprimatur, Elder takes a slow-burn approach to the second movement (its tempo marking suggests something swifter will ensue), for close-on eleven minutes convincingly and affectionately suggesting a forest legend – featuring nymphs – within its unhurried/beguiling song and dance measures. The searching Finale – Scherzo-like to begin with – opens out majestically from this team: organic, inevitable, resplendent, horns trilling exuberantly.