Once it's there it won't go away. You're stuck with it, whatever happens.
I'm talking about the association of a piece of music with an image, an event
or recollection of either. Back in 1963 when the world was young and your
reviewer had some hair - and television was in black and white - the BBC
screened a programme which included film of a little boy, dressed in
old-fashioned clothes, riding a pony in magnificent hilly country. With the
image was some glorious string music which perfectly matched what was on
the screen. The film, of course, was Ken Russell's magical "Elgar" made
for the Monitor series. The music - Elgar's Introduction and Allegro.
Did the film catch a trend, or did it create one? Probably something of each.
Certainly the programme was influential with the music loving public at large
(perhaps more outside London than in the Capital - discuss!) as Elgar's music
came back out of the shadows. Tarred as jingoistic - and even worse, horror
of horrors, unfashionable - from long before his death 30 years before the
Monitor programme, he was a man not receiving the recognition in his own
country that he ought to have had. Since then he has regained his rightful
place in English music. Just look at the current massive interest in the
Elgar/Payne Symphony. As for the music - well, I can't stop associating it
with that TV of nearly 40 years ago. And I don't want to, either.
This disc is a masterpiece. If it isn't in your collection in any of its
old formats - then buy it now. It's a must have. Six works, played faultlessly,
in incomparable performance by musicians and conductor in perfect accord
and almost breathing the music they are so involved.
Two of the longer works are the Elgar Introduction and Vaughan Williams
Tallis Fantasia. Similar in that each uses a double string orchestra
and string quartet, both have a most beautifully judged recording depth with
the soloists' placement allowing them to be as one would like to hear them
in a concert hall. The Introduction - a marvellous work - has a reading
full of warmth and affection. The great striding theme has immense vigour
and the gentler contrasting passages are full of light and shade with the
fugue a model of clarity. J.B himself can be heard, whether exhorting his
colleagues or simply expressing his enjoyment isn't clear.
For the VW Tallis, taped 4 years earlier, the recording venue
moved from the studio to the larger acoustic of London's Temple Church. For
a work such as this there was real and clearly audible benefit from the greater
resonance it gives to shimmering upper strings. The Fantasia itself
- written as a single movement of almost hypnotic appeal is given a radiant
performance worthy of its stature as one of the great string works.
Elgar's E Minor Serenade, a gentle work with Barbirolli lingering
over the lovely melody of the Larghetto , and two of his shorter pieces complete
his contribution to the disc. His Elegy, Op 58 is a work showing
greater depth than one would expect from a commissioned piece, while Sospiri
(meaning sighs) written for strings, harp and organ has an extended string
line of such wistfulness that we must wonder what prompted such heart on
sleeve music. English reserve- what nonsense. As a perfect ending to a well-nigh
perfect disc is RVW's Greensleeves Fantasia - probably the single
piece of music most widely thought of as "English".
The recording and balance were always highly regarded and the new remastering
I make no apologies for my enthusiasm for this disc. It's in my own personal
list of Desert Island Discs choices. Even then, I'm not allowed to
give it more than five stars (The Editor won't be bribed).
(There Harry - especially for you - LM)
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