Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Sir Edward ELGAR (1857 - 1934)
Pomp and Circumstances Marches Nos 1-5, Op. 39 27'56"
Sea Pictures. Op 37 27'44"
Cockaigne Overture, Op. 40 * 16'39"
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Bernadette Greevy (contralto)
Vernon Handley
Recorded Watford Town Hall Feb 1981
St. Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London Sept 1978* DDD / ADD*
EMI Classics for Pleasure 574003 2 [69'19"]
 Amazon UK  Amazon USA approx £6

Out again on the bargain priced Classics for Pleasure label is a selection of music by Elgar that should be snapped up by the multitude of us who admire his work. Under Vernon Handley, the performances on the CD show why he has such a well-earned reputation as one of our leading Elgarian conductors.

Pride of place must go to a splendid account of Sea Pictures with the contralto Bernadette Greevy in magnificently full voice in the five songs that make up the set. The poetry is not of the first order, largely trite Victoriana, but even so Elgar treats the words with respect and writes some of his best music for them. The obvious comparison on any recording is inevitably that with Barbirolli and Dame Janet Baker, who, of course, is a mezzo. No clear winner emerges and both should ideally be in a collection. The soloist's diction is perfection - helping to compensate for the absence of the words with the disc notes - and the dramatic expression she finds in some very ordinary lines is impressive. The orchestral support is sensitive and controlled and they make a splendid team.

The Pomp and Circumstances Marches that open the disc is the full set of five including Number 1 that crops up so often - notably at the Proms and football matches. It is commonly known that Elgar in his later life was saddened by the jingoism that attached itself to the Land of Hope and Glory tune - a factor in his lack of popularity for many years. I recall with considerable sadness the bitter and rather cruel use of one of the pieces (part of No 4 I think) at an especially moving part of that magnificent and harrowing TV series of some years back The Great War. Handley captured the attractive second theme in the A Minor (No 2) and I especially liked the minor key second subject in No 5 - how refreshing to here some of the less often heard numbers again. The LPO plays with feeling and plenty of attacking bite from the brass, but avoids bombast in an attractive grouping. Cockaigne, Elgar's delightful view of Edwardian London, is given a swaggering, affectionate reading with its unmistakable nobilimente concluding passages.

The full-blooded and well-balance recording (that has some added on separately organ support) - helps to make this a bargain disc that should not be missed.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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