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Decca Phase 4
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Edward Elgar - The Collector's Edition
The Masterpieces – The Greatest Artists
The symphonies, concertos, orchestral, choral, chamber and piano music plus CD30:
Elgar conducts Elgar
Full contents list at end of review
rec. London,. Liverpool, Manchester, 1963-1990. (CD30: 1929-1933) ADD/DDD
5036032 [30 CDs: 1904:17]
the great Elgar works – and some others - in iconic recordings
drawn from the EMI vaults.
a stack of Elgar here and I have listened to only a small
part of it. I have sampled my way through the discs but in
any event have known all but a few of these recordings for
years often in these reissued transfers when released individually.
Classics have the world's most bountiful Elgar treasury.
No label has recorded as much Elgar. The label's reputation
was established in the 1960s when the composer's star had
seemed to have sunk beyond recall. This set includes several
recordings from those days. Indeed in many ways what we have
here is a volume recording the rise of Elgar's reputation
in modern times. These are often pioneering performances
and recordings; not that there is anything primitive about
the sound. At the very least the sound is stereo captured
in shining analogue. From another point of view you might
even claim that these recordings went out on a limb - the
stuff of musical evangelism from a company taking a major
risk with music condemned as amateurish, bombastic, otiose
and embarrassingly sentimental.
the 1920s onwards Elgar's sumptuous orchestral scores were
roundly condemned. Time and tide had turned against him.
He was always the subject of sneers because he was not a
product of the Royal Academy or Royal College. Now that the
wheel of fashion had turned neglect was to be ground in.
This was to continue over a period that saw considerable
advances in technology making audio reproduction more agreeable
and accessible to a wider public.
deeply on their back catalogue the present set offers both
analogue (the majority) and digital stereo sound from as
early as 1963 (some of the Barbirolli orchestral items) to
as late as 1990 (orchestral songs) - let's leave CD30 out
of the reckoning for now. The lion's share of the orchestral
items are from the mid-late 1960s and most of the rest from
the mid-1970s to late 1980s. It all sounds very good indeed.
box is available at less than £1.50 per disc. The presentation
is basic but what's to complain about? Each of the 30 discs
comes in its own plain light paper sleeve - rather like an
LP inner sleeve. The 30 CDs and a 32 page booklet fit into
the inner thick card pocket which in turn slips into a hard
wrote much for the human voice and much of that is presented
here. However the words are not provided in the booklet.
It's the price you pay for such a compact package which runs
to some 32 hours playing time.
what is in the booklet? Not much more than a basic
identification of the works on each disc. There's no biography
and no notes. Instead it provides a full track-listing, disc
by disc, movement by movement. Usually a (p) year is given
for each recording and only in the case of the last disc
("Elgar conducts Elgar") are we given exact recording
dates and venues.
is a Collector's Edition in the sense that a collector might
want to add Elgar to his shelf and know that when the spirit
moves him or her to listen to some Elgar he or she will have
at least good and often toweringly fine recordings to hear.
If the listener is curious he will have to try the internet
or library or any one of the tens of books that have been
written about Elgar and his music. As for finding the sung
words that's going to be a bigger challenge. If you have
web access then you can probably track down the text of Gerontius or
of Sea Pictures and some of the other songs. However
for the words of most of the other works involving singing
of one sort or another you'll be struggling. Few composer
sites - and certainly not the Elgar ones - offer the sung
words to read on screen, to copy or to download. I'll be
genuinely pleased to be given URL source for King Olaf, Spirit
of England, The Light of Life, Starlight Express, Caractacus or
even The Kingdom and The Apostles.
is not then for the collector who must have lots of written
context or full discographical details or even the collector
who wants to follow the words from a printed source.
that said it remains an astonishing bargain and one that
should do well as a gift at any time of year.
what do we get? In short it's pretty well all the Elgar works
you would ever want. Major omissions: none. OK it's not all
the piano music, no songs with piano alone, not absolutely all the
choral music. You will not be hearing the really obscure
choral-orchestral items such as La Voix dans le Désert, Fringes
of the Fleet or those other cinderella works written
around the early years of the Great War. Even so every major
work is here and most of what isn't major
broad choices made by Richard Abram are interesting artistically
speaking. Boult is represented lightly. None of his symphony
or concerto recordings. You do get Boult's The Musicmakers, The
Apostles and The Kingdom alongside his In The
South, Sanguine Fan (ballet score) and a smattering
of other minor scores. At this point I'd really only question
Abram's choice of Boult's In The South. They had a
much better version in the classically volatile passionate
performance by Silvestri and the Bournemouth Symphony. Rather
like the piano solos and songs, if you want the Silvestri
it should be reasonably easy and inexpensive to pick up as
the orchestral works it's Barbirolli who gets the limelight.
In fact the six discs of Elgar-Barbirolli pretty much account
for all the orchestral music and for The Dream of Gerontius.
This will be frustrating for those who bought EMI’s Elgar
Barbirolli was aged between
63 and 67 when he made these recordings and had only four
more years to live after the latest sessions. He brought
to his Elgar a lifetime of associations which included being
amongst the earliest solo proponents of the Cello Concerto.
He knew the composer and had his imprimatur as a result of
conducting the Second Symphony in 1927. That these tapes
were made in the 1960s when Elgar's music still stood in
the unwarrantedly mired reputation of imperial bombast is
all the more remarkable.
While this bargain set
is presented with the typically spartan minimalism you are
not short-changed on artistic and technical quality. The
recordings are excellent 1960s EMI vintage. The Introduction
and Allegro and Serenade are from the illustrious
Sinfonia of London sessions originally issued on ASD 521;
vinyl that at one time seemed destined to remain forever
in the catalogue and at full price. In fact the whole recording
with the Sinfonia of London (RVW Tallis and Greensleeves)
was reissued on a GROC some
time ago. These performances add decisively to the attractions
of this set. Rangy, poignant and full-blooded playing is
yours in the Introduction and Allegro. There's a wondrous
analogue depth to the recording which captures the throaty
attack of the massed strings. Incredibly this was Barbirolli's
sixth and final recording of the work. Isn't this the recording
exhilaratingly used by Ken Russell in his Elgar film: the
final titles with the camera mounted in a car accelerating
up the hill roads?
Barbirolli's reading of
the First Symphony sometimes feels as if it has lead weights
attached, at least in the first movement. It would be an
eccentric sole representative but it is of the type that
easily engenders enormous affection. It has a special plangency
and lustre greatly assisted by the harp's underpinning, captured
even in moments of notable climax. No surprises there as
EMI's team proved a decade later with the harp figuration
refulgently heard in Birmingham for the Walton-Frémaux coronation
marches. The Second Symphony has the same virtues and faults.
Barbirolli relishes every moment - and there is pleasure
in that for the listener too. This performance lacks the
headstrong potency of the Solti/LPO Decca which remains both
watershed and reference disc as much as Barbirolli does for
the Introduction and Allegro. Once again however the
recording proclaims its high calling in capturing the violins'
'fugitive gleam' for example in the second movement at 2:20
and also the assertive grandiloquent bloom of the horns.
The strolling legato of the finale is lovingly paced and
as well judged as the pregnant gait Barbirolli mints for
the opening of the First Symphony. The stereo separation
and other spatial qualities excitingly enhance the bold and
noble brass-string dialogues from 4:10 onwards in the finale.
The climax with that swaying asymmetrical syncopation at
8:50-8:53 still has the power to get you on your feet. You should also have as a supplement No. 2 as
recorded in the early 1970s by Solti.
Barbirolli's Falstaff has
the impetuous qualities of its subject, dissolute, quixotic,
rash (quite a lot of that), given to humour, poetry, affectionate
lechery and self-pity. This is a reading as full of unruly
life as Robert Nye's portrayal of Falstaff or in Orson
Welles film The Chimes at Midnight. The conductor,
himself a cockney, knew and loved Elgar's London as reflected
in Cockaigne and delivers an impetuous and loving
reading which in this case does not dawdle (try 2:12). That
shiver of youthful panache can also be felt in the early Froissart overture.
Contrary to my earlier review this was not the first version
since the composer’s. In fact Boult recorded it on ALP 1379
and this was issued in 1956 coupled with Dream Children and
the P&C Marches. It lasted in the catalogue till
1968 - just after the Barbirolli was issued (with thanks
to Chris Howell for this information). As with Falstaff the
recording of Enigma is generously tracked so that
you can find your way around with ease. While this does not
have the momentum of the Beecham version (BMG-Sony) - a personal
favourite - it is grand and expansive and most artistically
recorded. The marches are crackingly done and Nos. 2 and
4 stand out in this company for their gruffly spick and span
rigour. That said, I still rate Norman Del Mar's recording
with the RPO very highly indeed for its vivid character (DG-Universal).
CD5 is an exact copy of
another well-loved EMI LP (ASD 655) again with a phenomenally
long shelf-life at full price in the EMI catalogue. Janet
Baker, caught in her early prime, is matchless in Sea
Pictures, making, with her sincerity and naturally pellucid
enunciation, a masterful impression of a work that is not
out of Elgar's top drawer. The Du Pré Cello Concerto is also
most beautifully and passionately done and is generally reckoned
a reference version. For me it lacks the sheer irresistible
voltage overload of the live recording in 1970 with her husband
conducting the Philadelphia (BMG-Sony). These stand testimony
to the velvet and satin translucency of the now-demolished
Kingsway Hall; almost as much of a loss as Barbirolli himself.
Looking back we have now
adjusted to the imbalances of the Elgar-Barbirolli heritage.
There's no Violin Concerto. Such a pity he did not record
the concerto in the 1960s with the then still fiery Ida Haendel
- rather than the honour falling to an elderly Boult when
the flames were reduced to a fitful glimmer (Testament).
We also missed a Barbirolli In the South (although
there is a BBC Legends CD of a radio broadcast from circa
1970) a piece which should surely have suited Barbirolli's
Italian blood if the Introduction and Allegro is anything
to go by. As it is, the crown for that work belongs, as I
have said, Silvestri - another EMI treasure - a true Great
Recording of the Century. I should add that the Sinopoli
version on DG is a pretty potent effort too – most impressive.
These Barbirolli readings
are still exciting, eccentric and blessed, magnificent and
suffused with radiant personality.
might, five or so years ago, have bought the Elgar-choral
works box in which case you have much but far from all
of the rest of The Elgar Collectors Edition.
Boult is here only fitfully then much the same can be said
of other more recent EMI faithfuls such as Handley and Haitink.
In fact there's no Haitink at all. Handley appears only for Starlight
Express, King Olaf, the two Wand of Youth suites,
the Gordon Jacob-orchestrated Organ Sonata (CD8) and a handful
of songs with orchestra. Richard Hickox is represented by
two rare big scores: The Spirit of England and The
Banner of St George recorded in 1987 and 1988. In fact
these, together with Handley's recording of King Olaf,
are the most recent recordings here.
who does well is Sir Charles Groves; and I am very pleased
to see him so extensively represented. It's a pity that his
Elgar advocacy during his many years at Liverpool was not
systematically recorded. He did so much and often did it
well! In any event he appears here directing The Light
of Life, The Black Knight, Caractacus, Nursery
Suite, Severn Suite (orchestral not brass band)
and The Crown of India suite.
was delighted to see that of all the versions of the Violin
Concerto available to EMI the 1970s Hugh Bean account from
Groves and the RLPO is chosen. It is the one closest to the
classic Sammons recording (Naxos). It is certainly to be
preferred for its poetic concentration and drama over the
much lauded but ultimately rather pedestrian historically
important versions from Menuhin. Then again no Elgar collection
should be considered complete without the Heifetz/Sargent recording
(Naxos or BMG) or indeed either of the charismatic versions
by Nigel Kennedy (both EMI). I have been listening to the
recently EMI-reissued Kennedy/CBSO/Handley and it’s phenomenal – very
personal and never dull.
concentration in a set like this is bound to be on the orchestral
and choral-orchestral works. However EMI do not neglect the
chamber music. All three post-Great War scores are there.
CD 12 has the Piano Quintet from Ogdon and the Allegri with
the String Quartet from the Music Group of London whose David
Parkhouse is the pianist with Hugh Bean on CD6 in the Violin
Sonata. Good choices from recordings made more than thirty
years ago. The Sonata and Quintet are still available with
the Bean violin concerto on a CFP double.
can if you wish compare the original of the Organ Sonata
on CD26 with the Jacob orchestration on CD6. The original
from 1965 is played by Herbert Sumsion in Gloucester - one
of the Three Choirs cities. Compare also the orchestral Three
Bavarian Dances (Sonnenbichl, Hammersbach, Bei
Murnau) on CD9 (Boult) with their counterparts in the
lovely choral work From the Bavarian Highlands. The
latter is played by that doughty Elgarian (superb Enigma and Pomp & Circumstances on
DG-Universal). You can also compare Barbirolli's P&Cs, Serenade and Cockaigne from
1963-66 (CDs 3-4) with the composer's own from 1927-33 (CD30).
last CD is the only mono disc here; inevitably so since it
represents Elgar conducting his own works in recordings made
between 1926 and 1933, the year before his death. The most
substantial work is Cockaigne so this represents only
a taster but I congratulate whoever made this choice. It
lets us hear the composer - even in old age - speaking directly
through his music. If briefly we also hear Elgar's voice
as he introduces Land of Hope and Glory for the soundtrack
of a 1931 Pathé newsreel.
set such as this prompts other speculation in this Elgar's
150th birthday year. Surely in years to come we will see
all of Elgar's own electrical process recordings collected
in an “Elgar's Elgar Edition”; something similar appeared
across several weighty boxed sets in the days of the LP.
Other companies may also produce a box of the acoustic recordings.
Surely there will also a complete Boult-Elgar box and in
years to come do not be surprised to see an Elgar-Handley
box. Beyond Elgar and with the Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert
50 boxes in the background you are not telling me that EMI
will not issue a complete RVW in 2008 to mark the fiftieth
anniversary of the composer's death - but at its core will
the symphonies be from Boult, or Handley or Haitink? There'll
be the chamber music from the Music Group of London, all
the choral music conducted by Boult and the operas shared
between Boult and Meredith Davies. Watch this space. Beyond
EMI keep an eye on Chandos. Their catalogue of Bax, Walton,
RVW and Elgar is in depth. While they have been the first
to exploit all they have for online MP3, WMA and lossless
downloads they have stood clear from the hurly-burly of major
boxed sets at bargain price. They may well awake to issue
wallet sets for their house composers over the next decade
- although the situation may be complicated by new recording
to this Elgar set. I suppose the ideal purchaser is the almost
complete beginner. Someone who has heard Gerontius or
the Cello Concerto and is determined to have and explore
further at leisure. Then again there is someone who has quite
a bit of Elgar but not these recordings. They may have the
Elgar-Solti box (Decca) or the Andrew Davis (Warner) and
be happy to hear alternative versions and at the same time
add many new Elgar works to the shelves. Naxos have issued
several Elgar boxes and plenty of individual discs. If you
have any of those and want to extend the collection massively
in one fell swoop then look no further. The packaging will
also appeal to the Green and Pleasant Land brigade
- nothing wrong with that – they should try Caractacus first.
The box design certainly encourages them and suggests the
younger, poetically reflective composer rather than the white
mustachioed relic of Empire. Interesting that the flag-wavers
are not pandered to by the designers. Elgar is treated for
a large part of what he is in much of his music - a composer
of passion and inwardness.
summary - a shining bargain for the Elgar explorer.
Symphony No. 1 in A flat Op. 55, Introduction and Allegro
Philharmonia Orchestra, Allegri Quartet, Sinfonia of London/Sir
Symphony No. 2 in e flat Op. 63, Serenade
Philharmonia Orchestra, Allegri Quartet, Sinfonia of London/Sir
Falstaff: Symphonic Study in C minor Op. 68
Cockaigne (In London Town) - Concert Overture Op. 40
Froissart - Concert Overture Op. 19
Hallé Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, New Philharmonia
Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
Variations on an Original Theme 'Enigma' Op. 36, Pomp and
Circumstance March No. 1 - 5, Serenade in E minor Op. 20
Philharmonia Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sinfonia
of London/Sir John Barbirolli
Sea Pictures Op. 37, Cello Concerto in E minor Op. 85
Dame Janet Baker, Jacqueline du Pré, London Symphony Orchestra/Sir
Violin Sonata in E minor Op. 82, Violin Concerto in B minor
Hugh Bean, David Parkhouse, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir
Nursery Suite, Severn Suite Op. 87, Suite from The Crown of
India Op. 66, Coronation March Op. 65
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves
Organ Sonata [No. 1] in G Op. 28, The Wand of Youth - Suite
No. 1 Op. 1a, The Wand of Youth - Suite No. 2 Op. 1b
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Three Bavarian Dances, Chanson de nuit Op. 15 No. 1, Chanson
de matin Op. 15 No. 2, Fantasia and Fugue in C minor Op.
86, Overture in D minor
In the South (Alassio) - Concert Overture Op. 50
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Carillon Op. 75, Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35,
Grania and Diarmid Op. 42, Polonia Op. 76, Caractacus Op.
35, Imperial March Op. 32, Empire March (1924)
David Bell, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Beau Brummel, Dream Children Op. 43, Salut d'amour Op. 12,
Minuet Op. 21, May Song, Rosemary, Romance for Bassoon and
Orchestra Op. 62, Sevillana Op. 7, Sérénade lyrique, Mazurka
Op.10 No. 1, Serenade mauresque Op. 10 No. 2, Contrasts Op.
10 No. 3, Carissima, Mina
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Lawrence Collingwood, Northern
Sinfonia of England/Sir Neville Marriner
Piano Quintet in A minor Op. 84, String Quartet in E minor
Op. 83, Serenade, Concert Allegro Op. 46
John Ogdon, Allegri Quartet, Music Group of London
The Dream of Gerontius Op. 38 - Part I
The Dream of Gerontius Op. 38 - Part II
Janet Baker (mezzo); Richard Lewis (tenor); Kim Borg (bass);
Halle Choir; Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus; Ambrosian Singers/Halle
Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
The Apostles Op. 49 - Part I
The Apostles Op. 49 - Part II
The Apostles and the Kingdom - An Illustrated Introduction
by Sir Adrian Boult (2006 remaster)
Sheila Armstrong (soprano); Helen Watts (alto); Robert Tear
(tenor); Benjamin Luxon (bass); Clifford Grant (bass); John
Carol Case (bass); Choir of Downe House School; London Philharmonic
Choir; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
The Kingdom Op. 51
The Kingdom Op. 51
Coronation Ode Op. 44
Op. 51: Margaret Price (soprano); Yvonne Minton (alto); Alexander
Young (tenor); John Shirley-Quirk (bass); London Philharmonic
Choir; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Op. 44: Dame Felicity Lott (soprano); Alfreda Hodgson (alto);
Richard Morton (tenor); Stephen Roberts (bass); Cambridge
University Musical Society Chorus; Choir of King’s College
Cambridge; New Philharmonia Orchestra; Band of the Royal
Military School of Music, Kneller Hall/Sir Philip Ledger
The Light of Life (Lux Christi) Op. 29
The Black Knight Op. 25, Scenes from The Saga of King Olaf
Op. 30 - Part I
Scenes from The Saga of King Olaf Op. 30 - Part II, Spanish
Serenade Op. 23, The Snow Op. 26 No. 1, Fly, singing bird
Op. 26 No. 2
Caractacus Op. 35 - Scenes I & II
Caractacus Op. 35 - Scene III
CD24 [46:10 ]
The Banner of St George Op. 33, Great is the Lord (Psalm 48)
Op. 67, Te Deum and Benedictus Op. 34
Stephen Roberts, London Symphony Chorus, Northern Sinfonia
of England/Richard Hickox
The Spirit of England Op. 80, Give unto the Lord (Psalm 29)
Op. 74, O hearken thou (Offertory) Op. 64, Land of Hope and
Glory (arr. Arthur Fagge)
Dame Felicity Lott, London Symphony Chorus, Northern Sinfonia
of England/Richard Hickox
Ave verum corpus Op. 2 No. 1, Ave Maria Op. 2 No. 2, Ave maris
stella Op. 2 No. 3, 11 Vesper Voluntaries Op. 14, Angelus
Op. 56 No. 1, Give unto the Lord Op. 74, O hearken thou Op.
Te Deum and Benedictus Op. 34, Organ Sonata [No. 1] in G Op.
Worcester Cathedral Choir, Harry Bramma, Christopher Robinson,
The Music Makers Op. 69, The Sanguine Fan Op. 81
Dame Janet Baker, London Philharmonic Choir, London Philharmonic
Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
The Starlight Express - Incidental Music Op. 78
Valerie Masterson, Derek Hammond-Stroud, London Philharmonic
Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands Op. 27, Pleading Op. 48
No. 1, Was it some golden star? Op. 59 No. 3, Oh, soft was
the song Op. 59 No. 1, Twilight Op. 59 No. 6, The Torch Op.
60 No. 1
The River Op. 60 No. 2, The Shower Op. 71 No. 1, My love dwelt
in a northern land, Five Part-Songs from the Greek Anthology
Op. 45, The Wanderer (1923), The Reveille Op. 54,
4 Choral Songs Op. 53 - Deep in my Soul, Jerusalem, The National
Anthem (arr. Elgar)
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 - 5, The Dream of Gerontius
Op. 38 - Prelude, Serenade in E minor Op. 20, Five Piano
Improvisations, Salut d'amour Op. 12, Chanson de nuit Op.
15 No. 1
Chanson de matin Op. 15 No. 2, Pomp and Circumstance March
No. 1 in D Op. 39 No. 1 - Trio, Cockaigne (In London Town)
- Concert Overture Op. 40
BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Albert
Hall Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, New Symphony
Orchestra, Sir Edward Elgar
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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