Here’s another fascinating haul of historic Elgar recordings from Somm expertly compiled and restored by Lani Spahr. The 77-minute programme is launched in delectable fashion with the first-ever appearance of the composer conducting his own Op 58 Elegy with the strings of Adrian Boult’s magnificent BBC Symphony Orchestra. The April 1933 Abbey Road sessions took place some four and a half months before what proved to be the 76-year-old composer’s final appearance in front of the HMV microphones, an afternoon in Kingsway Hall with the LPO which produced the commercially released version of the same work. Comparative listening reveals conspicuously greater lustre and emotional urgency to the BBC SO performance.
There’s more buried treasure in the form of the great Albert Sammons’s premiere recording (from April 1916, with Henry Wood conducting) of the Violin Concerto, a drastically abridged affair designed to fit on to just four 78s but which nonetheless entrancingly demonstrates his sovereign technical command of – and peerless affinity for – this masterpiece. (Wood, of course, teamed up again with Sammons for their still unrivalled 1929 Columbia recording of the concerto in its entirety.) Sammons’s delightful rendering of Salut d’amour with Gerald Moore (from May 1940 for Decca) brings up the rear, and another legendary fiddler, Alfredo Campoli, can be heard in a December 1931 version of La capricieuse (with pianist Harold Pindar) and leading his own Salon Orchestra in the 1932 Serenade.
Other collector’s items include Sir Landon Ronald’s flexible 1935 account of the darkly magnificent 1911 Coronation March (which enjoys impressively ample sound), Dutch contralto Maartje Offers with an unnamed orchestra and a young John Barbirolli in ‘Where corals lie’ from Sea Pictures (set down for HMV in April 1929), baritone Frederic Austin singing The Pipes of Pan (from March 1909) and Fred Taylor’s splendidly lusty delivery of ‘The Lowestoft Boat’ from The Fringes of the Fleet (1917). Lastly, there’s a private tape from 1960 courtesy of Jerrold Northrop Moore featuring Elgar’s niece, May Grafton, playing a little Sonatina for piano that her uncle had written for her in 1889 when she was just seven years old.
Copiously detailed presentation and judicious transfers grace a fascinating issue that all experienced Elgarians are sure to appreciate.