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alternatively Crotchet

Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
In the South (Alassio), Op. 50 (1904) [23:14]
Sea Pictures, Op. 37 (1899) [22:56]
Enigma Variations, Op. 36 (1899) [31:48]
Gladys Ripley (contralto)
London Symphony Orchestra/George Weldon
Philharmonia Orchestra/George Weldon (Enigma)
rec. Abbey Road Studio No. 1, 1954; Kingsway Hall, London, 1953 (Enigma). ADD
SOMM SOMMCD073 [78:11]
Experience Classicsonline

George Weldon (1908-1963) was conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra from 1944 to 1951 and succeeded Leslie Heward. The orchestra gained the word ‘Symphony’ in 1948 becoming the CBSO during Weldon’s ‘watch’. His was a local reputation and one that has not maintained its grip since his death in South Africa in 1963. Despite this he recorded energetically for EMI Classics and other companies and was adored for much of his time in Birmingham. His artistry we will come to but his looks lent him a certain glamour. One might say the same thing of George Hurst who worked for years with the Bournemouth orchestra. Always dapper Hurst was a superb interpreter of Tchaikovsky amongst much else and had an inspired Holst Planets recording to his name (Contour LP). In this connection Weldon might be remembered by some for appearing with his beloved E-Type Jaguar in a photograph on the front of an EMI LP ‘British Light Music of the 20th Century’. Weldon studied at the Royal College where his conducting teacher was Malcolm Sargent. He later worked as understudy to composer-conductor Julius Harrison at Hastings. His time at Birmingham ended badly with a ‘palace coup’ following adverse critical notices. Barbirolli promptly snapped him up as an assistant in Manchester.

Brian Culverhouse worked for EMI (1951-72) and made the Sea Pictures and Alassio recordings with him. He also remastered all the recordings heard here including Walter Legge’s sessions for the Enigma from the original EMI tapes. There are 82 titles made for EMI with Legge. Culverhouse embarked on the digital remastering as a ‘tribute to a remarkable conductor and a fine friend’. The results featured on this generously time CD would I am sure have pleased Weldon and may, I hope, result in further reissues.

Weldon’s In the South is swashbuckling and poetic but without quite the superheated passion of Silvestri’s reference recording with the Bournemouth Symphony or Sinopoli’s coupled with the symphonies on DG. There is however more warmth and unbridled excitement here than in Boult’s final EMI recording. His Sea Pictures with Gladys Ripley is ripe and mainstream. She surprises by combining that typically English contralto-plummy delivery with intelligent attention to enunciation of the words – which are printed in the booklet in full. Both Weldon and Ripley make Where Corals Lie really dance; not a shadow of lassitude or smugness. A new favourite version for me. Weldon’s Enigma can be very gentle, witty, balletic and delicate. It comes as no surprise to learn that Elgar was Weldon’s favourite composer. One can feel the enjoyment in much the same way as this quality radiates out of certain of Bernstein’s and Rozhdestvensky’s recordings. He will appeal to the Elgar mainstream but for me in this work he does not supplant the Barenboim and Beecham versions.

The words of the Sea Pictures poems are reproduced in full in the booklet.

Fine idiosyncratic Elgar from five decades ago and in honest transfers.

Rob Barnett


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