This two-for-one EMI set gives us classic 1960s Elgar in
analogue. It contrasts with the just-released companion set which
proffers 1970s analogue Holst (see review
The two discs are built around purely orchestral Elgar. The common
threads are Barbirolli in the symphonies … and the Bournemouth
orchestra in the shorter pieces. Barbirolli directs the Philharmonia
in the First and the Hallé in the Second. The latter recording
was, when first issued, spread somewhat profligately across three
LP sides with a fourth left blank. You can still find this set
in secondhand shops. I recall seeing it in Times Gone By
far from Chorley.
The Bournemouth orchestra provide what may be seen as the fillers
though in the case of Silvestri's Alassio
it is anything
but a filler. This is for me one of the finest of all recordings
and interpretations in any genre. It is stunningly vivid and
still sounds gloriously passionate - completely uninhibited,
indeed rapturous. How did Silvestri conjure such playing? It's
a recording that belongs in our Hall of Fame. It was last available
in a CD that showcased the BSO and its conductors down the ages
- from Dan Godfrey onwards. The closest you come to this passion
among modern recordings of the work is in the underrated Sinopoli
with the Philharmonia on DG. Hearing this again makes me lament
that Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969) did not go on to record Francesca
. If he had then we might be referring to that recording
as the reference point rather than Stokowski on Everest-Omega
or Ovchinnikov on Melodiya. This is one of those recordings where
passion flows though each bar and only at the close does the
listener sink back into the chair utterly spent after the shudder
and tensely controlled onrush of the last few moments.
When reviewing the Barbirolli-Elgar EMI
I wrote with some disparagement of the First Symphony.
It has a weightiness and a somnolence that for me only partly
hits the spot. For all its luxurious and lucid recording perspectives,
it suffers from an accidie of the symphonic musculature. It will
please you in the correct mood and the nobilmente
is present but I wanted more surge and tramping urgency. Wonderful
gruff brass and harp recording, by the way - in fact if the recording
were the only thing this would be at top of the list. The lacy
feathery vitality of the Allegro molto
is lovingly done
without that hint of torpor which otherwise irradiates this performance.
Everything is played con amore
to the hilt yet I hankered
for the rage of a Toscanini or a Cantelli or a Golovanov.
Del Mar - a great Strauss student and practical interpreter -
was a doughty Elgarian. His Polydor-DG recording of Enigma
the P&Cs goes to prove this - snap it up if ever you see
it. Here in one of Elgar's least virile pieces - the Serenade
a sort of counterpart to Sibelius in Rakastava
- he directs
a sturdily nostalgic and delightful recording with plenty of
carefully and successfully calculated emphases.
We end with an old friend: the Second Symphony in Barbirolli's
affectionate and Homeric reading. With Barbirolli one feels the
contrast between the two works. For me comparison between the
two symphonies parallels that between the two Brahms piano concertos.
The first not striving to ingratiate yet craggily tragic; the
Second fully mature, a Pandora's box in range of mood. It is
fully wrought, epic and completely satisfying. Barbirolli while
differing from my preferred version (LPO/Solti, Decca - all headstrong
potency) is deeply and toweringly impressive. Barbirolli relishes
every moment - and there is pleasure in that too. The recording
proclaims its exalted calling in capturing the violins’ ‘fugitive
gleam’ for example in the second movement at 2:20 and also
in the grandiloquent bloom of the horns. The strolling legato
of the finale is lovingly paced and well judged. 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 galvanic power. Among the many alternatives do try to hear
this revelatory version but do not miss out on Solti (Decca),
Handley (EMI), Downes (Naxos) and, yes, Svetlanov (RSK). After
being so impressed with Sinopoli's In the South
also have high hopes of his Elgar 2 when I can get to hear it.
The capable notes are by Michael Kennedy and are culled from
previous issues of these pieces. In the case of the symphonies
these recordings have been reissued time and again to the delight
of successive generations discovering vintage Elgar.
In a nice nostalgic touch EMI include full colour reproductions
of the original LP covers for the two symphonies.
Not just for nostalgic fifty-pluses. A classic thrilling In
and two gravely concentrated readings of the symphonies.