Elgar Orchestral Works
What a brilliant idea of the LPO to gather together Elgar recordings from many different sources, some rare and unexpected. They range from the composer’s recordings with the newly founded LPO to Sir Charles Mackerras and Vernon Handley in the 1980s. Most Elgarians will know the great majority, but it is many years since the Campoli recording of the Violin Concerto, fresh and urgent, was freely available.
Most cherishable of all is a Sea Pictures with Janet Baker and Vernon Handley, a live recording from 1984 that was rescued from the Capital Radio archives; it’s a wonderful alternative to the much-loved LSO/Barbirolli version. Baker’s voice is still gloriously rich, and the live occasion inspires a performance of great urgency and intensity. The nobility in “Sabbath Morning at Sea” is heart-stopping, from full-throated richness down to a hushed pianissimo on “brooded soft on waters deep”, and the attack in “The Swimmer” is thrilling. Handley beautifully conjures up the surge of the sea in the brilliant orchestration.
Sir Adrian Boult is the principal contributor to the set in recordings from a number of labels. The excellent transfer gives wonderful body to the mono recording of the Violin Concerto while Falstaff, Boult’s 1956 Nixa recording, has a restricted frequency range but still reveals plenty of detail, the close – so like the close of Strauss’s Don Quixote – chilling. It is good, too, to have Paul Tortelier’s warm and steadily paced reading of the Cello Concerto, and Handley’s noble CfP version of the Second Symphony is valuable for the use of organ to reinforce the bass at a key point in the finale. Mackerras’s Imperial March, made for Reader’s Digest, is a rarity, and his other contribution, a 1985 Enigma Variations (EMI Eminence), brings an unusually slow “Nimrod”.
It is good to have Elgar’s own beautiful account of the Serenade for Strings, spacious in the slow movement, and his Froissart , given the wrong date in the booklet listings but not in the authoritative, revelatory notes of Andrew Neill, chairman of the Elgar Society. From the 1930s, too, an excellent Coronation March by Sir Landon Ronald sounds wonderfully rich for the period. Solti’s Decca recordings have tingling clarity and brilliance, warmth and panache.
A wonderfully rich collection that all Elgarians should try to hear. Praise must go to the transfer engineers, Andrew Lang and Phil Rowlands, though their names come in the smallest print of all.