Elgar (1857-1934) - Overture: In the South (Alassio)
Elgar's magic is his facility with music on both the grandest scale and
the most intimate. At one end are nobility and profound spirituality,
at the other melodic felicity and disarming good humour. Bridging
- and blurring - the boundary between the two is his consummate craftsmanship,
bestowed equally on works both great and small. That the two become ideally
balanced in his medium-scale works probably explains the extraordinary
appeal of Cockaigne, the Introduction and Allegro,
and Alassio. His “voice” is unique, owing nothing to anybody. Or
perhaps a little to Schumann, from whom he inherited an ability to “roll”
his arguments, and maybe to Brahms for the solidity of his structures.
Then again, back then, who wasn't just a bit influenced by Wagner's
looming shadow? However, it surely cannot be coincidence that Froissart
(1890), Elgar's first orchestral work, shared to a remarkable degree the
sound-world of Richard Strauss whose flurry of early symphonic poems
was taking Europe by storm. This influence (if such it be) was rapidly
submerged by Elgar's own flurry of oratorios and the more parochial
nature of his succeeding orchestral works.
following the premiere of The Apostles, he holidayed on the Italian
Riviera. Amid the sunshine and scenery was born the concert overture
the South (1904). Did the locale remind Elgar of Strauss'
Italien (1886)? If so, it would explain the sudden resurrection
of that sonic kinship. In focusing on the opening's similarity to Don
Juan, many commentators implicitly admit a blinkered view: Elgar throughout
breathes the same air as Strauss.
point of commonality is textural complexity. From the outset, Elgar's valiant
main theme breeds like nobody's business. The purported structural similarity
with Cockaigne is obscured by the lack of any emphatic “big march
tune” punctuation marks. Instead, Elgar uses muted, wistful episodes,
the first of which links the long first subject workout to the arching
second (main) subject. The second opens the development section, which
climaxes on alternations of imposing, brass-dominated statements
with stabbing downwardly-arpeggiated figures. Emerging from a warm
haze on an entrancing solo viola , the third also forms the heart of the
work, and leads directly into the reprise, varied and blended into the
refulgent coda. By, it must have been some holiday!
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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