Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos. 1-5, Op.39 [27.46]
The Wand of Youth Suite No. 2, Op.1b [15.57]
Three Bavarian Dances, Op.27 [11.42]
English Symphony Orchestra/William Boughton
rec. Great Hall, Birmingham University, 18-19 June 1988
NIMBUS NI 7088 [55.45]
After William Boughton’s superbly characterised recording of the Enigma Variations (Nimbus NI 5206) it is a disappointment to find his readings of Pomp and Circumstance rather a let-down, crisply efficient rather than swaggering – one only needs to listen to what Sir John Barbirolli or Norman del Mar made of these underestimated scores to find out what is missing. Also the recording quality itself, although naturally balanced, tends to emphasise the brass and wind at the expense of the strings so that the result is brash rather than romantic.
Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches were written as what nowadays would be contemptuously called ‘pot-boilers,’ but being Elgar he could not help but put a vein of noble melancholy into the more military music, as in the famous slow sections in the First and Fourth marches. Land of hope and glory may be given the full works - and full organ here - at the end of the First march, but when it first appears it steals in softly and indeed almost apologetically. This is the element which is lacking in Boughton’s performances; the tunes are treated simply as ‘good tunes’, which they are, but they are also more than that. There is plenty of élan in the faster passages, but these are not performances which delve as deeply into the music as they might. I am aware that Elgar himself recorded all the Pomp and Circumstance marches at very brisk speeds indeed - his Third is nearly two minutes shorter than Boughton’s!- but this must surely be considered in the light of a constraint imposed by the need to get each march onto one side of a 78. Also one should bear in mind that many of Elgar’s speeds on his recordings would be regarded as eccentrically fast nowadays by any standards; in his recording of the Enigma Variations he dispatches Nimrod very briskly in under three minutes. This is part of a phenomenon which can be observed with many composers conducting their own works: the composer’s mind leaps ahead to the next inspiration and when conducting they hurry eagerly to reach it, where other interpreters may choose with advantage to linger and enjoy the delights along the way.
The Three Bavarian Dances are miniatures, works culled from Elgar’s choral suite From the Bavarian highlands written in the aftermath of trips by Elgar and his wife to Bavaria in the 1890s. Two more vigorous movements surround a semi-nocturnal Moderato which is hardly a dance at all in its gentle undulations. Boughton treats these pieces with plenty of sympathy, and seems to have more natural affinity with the music than the more extrovert marches. Oddly enough Elgar in his 78 recordings is actually slower in the first two of the movements - each of which fitted comfortably onto one 78 side - but the differences are minimal.
It is a puzzle why we are only given the second of Elgar’s two Wand of Youth suites in this collection – there would surely have been room for both on the CD. Boughton is nicely piquant in his performances and gets plenty of excitement into The wild bears with superlatively nimble string playing and nicely growling brass, but taken as a whole this cannot be considered one of his best discs.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Taken as a whole not of Boughton‘s best Elgar discs.