CHADWICK Symphonic Sketches ELGAR Enigma Variations
Let me urge immediate investigation of George Whitefield Chadwick’s Symphonic Sketches (1895-1904), four colourful tableaux of red-blooded vigour, fresh-faced charm and memorable invention (there’s a peach of a secondary idea in the exuberant opening ‘Jubilee’). Throughout Chadwick displays a notably deft orchestral touch; listen out for some especially rewarding writing for cor anglais in the tenderly nostalgic No 2 (‘Noël’) and bass clarinet in the roistering No 4 (‘A Vagrom Ballad’). There’s also plenty of twinkling humour to savour – and do I even detect a couple of mischievous nods to Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture in No 3 (‘Hobgoblin’)? Andrew Constantine leads a performance of winning affection and attentive spirit; he also secures a commendably spick-and-span response from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, who seem to be enjoying making this music’s acquaintance. The Hoddinott Hall sound has satisfying amplitude and truthful perspective in its favour but lacks something in ambient warmth by the side of Keith Johnson’s lustrous efforts in Brno for José Serebrier (an unmissable tonic on Reference Recordings, 4/95).
It seems Chadwick was somewhat ambivalent about the international acclaim that greeted Elgar after the phenomenal success of masterpieces like the Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius. (Following a meeting between the two in London in 1906, Chadwick wrote: ‘Had a very jolly and interesting visit … but I am not quite prepared to recognise him as the great genius that his cult would make him out.’) In its thoughtful manners and painstaking preparation, Constantine’s Enigma has not a little in common with Martyn Brabbins’s BBC Scottish SO version (Hyperion, 10/16). He’s particularly effective at pointing up the contrast between the delicate poise of ‘Dorabella’ and whiplash energy of ‘GRS’. Plaudits must also go to the BBC NOW’s principal clarinet Robert Plane for some magically hushed playing in the ‘Romanza’. On the debit side, both ‘Nimrod’ and ‘BGN’ are a fraction too inflated for my own tastes. Ultimately, I do miss those boundless reserves of compassion, humanity and vulnerability (to say nothing of the entrancing flow and organic inevitability) that mark out the greatest Enigmas (Barbirolli and Monteux, from 1956 and 1958 respectively, would still be my own top choices).
No matter, the disc earns a welcome for the sake of the Chadwick alone. I should add that Constantine himself pens a fascinating booklet essay, finding plenty of intriguing comparisons and points of contact between these two near-contemporaries.