> Edward Elgar - Enigma Variations [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Enigma Variations

Cello Concerto
Cockaigne Overture
Five Pomp and Circumstance Marches
Violin Concerto
Philadelphia/Ormandy (Engima; Cockaigne)
Jacqueline Dupre (cello) (cello concerto)
Philadelphia/Barenboim (cello concerto)
Philharmonia/Andrew Davis (P&Cs)
Pinchas Zukerman (violin) (violin concerto)
LPO/Barenboim (violin concerto)
rec Philadelphia 8 April 1962 (Enigma); 20 Jan 1963 (Cockaigne); 27-28 Nov 1970, Academy of Music (Cello Concerto); EMI Studios, Abbey Rd 5 Apr 1976 (Violin Concerto); 30 Dec 1981 (P&Cs) ADD/DDD
SONY ESSENTIAL CLASSICS SB2K63247 [2CDs: 75.28+79.25]

No need to beware Sony bearing gifts. This is exactly what it appears to be: a well proportioned collection built around Elgar's two great strong concertos. The recordings are, as the Scots say, mostly well kent to those who have been in ‘the business’ since the sixties.

First to the other (non-concerto) works. Andrew Davis and the Philharmonia are in cracking form for the P&Cs. Number one has smashing impact. The Second is flamboyant, and in those horn calls links back to Schumann's Second and Third Symphonies. Number Three looks to Rakoczy/Habsburg parallels. The Fourth has a closer kinship to the First than either of the others. I think with affection of the Norman Del Mar/RPO marches (coupled originally on a Polydor LP with Enigma) but these are very very good with alert split-second playing and acres of brass tone.

Cockaigne and Enigma are Ormandy versions. They may well be better known in the USA than in the British Isles. I had not heard them before. They are in fact very idiomatic and fluent interpretations perhaps a little lush but extremely vivid and with no lack of flamboyance and celerity (in BGN, HD S-P, RPA, WN) and balletic sensibility (in GRS). Ormandy's Cockaigne is similarly strong, plungingly powered, rambunctious and rollicking in splendour. Was that a touch of Hollywood in the strings at 3.01? And what about the skirling panache of the violins at 9.34? Would that Ormandy had felt moved to record In the South. Now if only EMI had tapped into such a dangerously imaginative move when they went to Phily in the late 1970s to record Ormandy in Sibelius's Lemminkainen Legends! This all goes to disprove an old and ultimately cancerous myth about Brits being the only true interpreters of Elgar.

There are few poor performances of the concertos. There are two real miscarries of which to beware. The first is the fascinating but bloatedly distended Ida Haendel version where an aged Boult was surely the reason. How sad that Haendel did not record it with Del Mar or Solti. Haendel's BBCSO/Rozhdestvensky concert performance was issued on the BBC IMP series but sadly I missed this disc (can anyone oblige me with a CDR?). The second is the lauded EMI recording - the later Menuhin recording with Boult which, while praised to the skies in most quarters, has always sent me yawning away. Zukerman and Barenboim are well matched with imaginative and generous-hearted coups flowing and tumbling one after the other. The soloist is sweet-toned without becoming treacly seeming at times to point up the relationship of this big-hearted tender and impulsive concerto with the Dvořák and the Brahms. This would serve as a fine library version of the concerto although once the bug has bitten you must hear Sammons, Oistrakh, Accardo, Bean (surely to be reissued on CFP?) and Heifetz (possibly my favourite version but favour keeps shifting in this company).

This concert recording of the Cello Concerto is seen by many as an eccentric choice yet it is probably my favourite overall. It was set down late in Dupré's career assembled from two concerts in Philadelphia in 1970. It is often compared unfavourably with the fine but not unchallengeable Dupré EMI studio version with the LSO and Barbirolli. Sony and before them CBS were well advised to hold this version in their live retail catalogues. It is a special event; as special in my view as Beecham in Sibelius 2 (live at the RFH in 1954) and as Mravinsky in Sibelius 7 in Moscow in 1965. Dupré draws smouldering and smoking tone from her instrument. Barenboim leads the Philadelphia in a grand age interpretation only impaired somewhat by the odd cough and the imperfect detailing of a concert recording. Listen, and listen in awe, to Dupré's hell-bent accuracy and quicksilver skitter through the allegro molto (tr 17). This recording is one of the best kept secrets in the catalogue - seek it out.

Brief and very generalised notes by Jackson Braider. No mention of the specific works. Neatly packaged in a single-width double-hinged case. Generous to perfection.

Rob Barnett


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