The Elgar Edition, Vol. 1
In 1957 HMV issued three LPs containing Elgar's recordings as part of his birthday centenary celebrations. Then in the early 1970s Pearl World Records and HMV undertook systematic reissues of the composer's performances. At one point, in fact, everything he had recorded, both acoustically and electrically, could be obtained on LP. This was a crucial time. On the one hand some traditional Elgarians reacted to the reissues in a puzzled and worried fashion through being accustomed to second-generation performances by eminent English conductors. These succeeded in bringing out the noble, Edwardian character of the music, but failed to convey adequately its restless, questioning and sometimes despairing elements—as Elgar's performances did so clearly. Some musicians who should have known better suggested that Elgar's readings were influenced by 78rpm recording techniques, others showed points of detail where he ignored markings in his own scores.
On the other hand, Elgar's greatness as a composer was becoming increasingly recognized. There were more and more performances of his works, and his own interpretations were influencing changes in styles of performance. This was precisely the most important function of a composer recording. Would-be interpreters studying the music could not only see Elgar's intentions in the printed score, but could follow the creative process a stage further—to the ultimate stage, in fact, and hear the creator realize his work in its natural medium, that of sound. And so the multi-faceted style of Elgar's own readings was absorbed directly or indirectly by a new generation of interpreters—many of them non-British—and the way they painted the music in all its aspects struck a new chord with modern listeners. Elgar's music had begun to mirror our own times.
That such a stage could be reached was due to the work of three men. Fred Gaisberg initially persuaded HMV to record most of Elgar's orchestral output under the composer. The 1970s LP reissues came about through the vision and advocacy of Jerrold Northrop Moore, who knew how important Elgar's recorded performances were to an understanding of the composer and his music. He it was who rescued a number of precious unpublished test recordings from private collections, and caused them to be made available for the first time. Then Anthony Griffith painstakingly transferred the original masters to tape in a quality of sound which enabled the recordings to make maximum impact. I'm delighted to learn that his advice has been sought in the present enterprise.
To these three names must now be added a fourth, Michael Dutton, who has produced new transfers using up-to-date technology which yield an astonishingly vivid quality of sound. All the clarity and detail which Griffith managed to find is there, but there is also body and warmth which one remembers from the original 78s. In some cases Dutton has gone back to these originals, and sometimes he has worked on the Griffith tapes. Never before in my experience has such a large degree of surface noise been eliminated without any loss of recording information. There are imperfections, of course. Some of the Royal Albert Hall recordings, particularly, have inherent distortion which could not be eliminated. There are also, for instance, patches in the First Symphony's second movement where the sound becomes momentarily unfocused. And there are mains hums and background noises which could not be supressed. But overall Dutton's achievement is very remarkable.
Elgar's recordings from first to last have a notable consistency of style. He had the ability to phrase his long melodies in a particularly intense and poignant fashion, asking the violins to use bows which were ''ten foot long''. Sir Adrian Boult wrote of his ''nervous, electric beat'' which he used in faster music to great effect in creating tension and variations of pulse. It is these pulse variations which are the secret of Elgar's music-making. In none of his performances will you find any foursquare rhythms. There is always an ebb and flow, an inner energy used to enhance mood and expression. His accounts of the two symphonies and Falstaff have all these qualities in full measure, and yet m the symphonies every movement's structure is clearly conveyed. The LSO at this period was not the greatest instrument, and Elgar sometimes drives the players beyond their real capabilities, but goodness, how they play their hearts out for him. The composer's words are now a little clearer in the rehearsal recording than they were on LP. The whole of this test pressing is issued for the first time, but the new material consists only of music—there is no more of Elgar's voice. Also, reissued for the first time, as a pendant to the complete recording, is the first published take of the Second Symphony's Rondo.
In his illuminating new notes for these CDs, Northrop Moore aptly refers to the live choral recordings as ''snapshots''. Here are brief extracts from public Elgar performances caught on the wing. The solo and choral singing seem dated now, and is variable in quality, but how vividly the tension and atmosphere of a live performance is preserved. Elgar's conducting of the Gerontius Prelude has particular beauty and depth of feeling.
This is the first issue in a series which will include all of Elgar's electrical recordings. I hope the fact that the discs are at full price will not deter too many collectors, for they deserve the widest possible circulation.'