Marriner's now rather warm and breathily close-up Serenade
is charmingly done. This is a convincing performance beside the usual
parade of sighs and pallid feyness. Indeed Marriner's Introduction
and Allegro might well have made a much more magnetic companion
than Britten's. Britten's version is a slender thing of Mozartian delicacy,
precision and athleticism. Britten chose a way quite other than that
espoused by Barbirolli in his classic EMI account or by Handley on Classics
for Pleasure. You will certainly find it a palate cleanser when surfeited
with the school of the heart-racing dash and voluptuous surge. This
is nowhere near a first recommendation in my book. Superb work though
from the gilded quartet of Emanuel Hurwitz, José Luis Garcia,
Cecil Aronowitz and Bernard Richards who are faithful to the Britten
Contrast this with Solti's headlong and headstrong
Second Symphony. There was some fuss about this when it was first
issued. After all Solti takes the work at a hussar-charge gallop. I
recall interviews at the time (1975) during which he was quite open
about having studied the recordings Elgar made of both this symphony
and the First. I feel extremely affectionate towards this recording
simply because it drew from me my first really positive reaction to
Elgar. I had heard the 1970s Boult recordings (Lyrita and EMI) and the
old Barbirolli version (that took up a 2 LP set!) and been left cold.
Solti ripped up the old assumptions and found excitement, snap, passion
and splendour. I was alerted to Solti's way by a BBC TV relay of the
Symphony in 1975. Try the last three minutes of the Allegro vivace
e nobilmente and the hoarse rasping bark of the horns in the Rondo.
He still finds time for the Larghetto to bloom and stretch. In
my experience no-one has built the crushing, slashing, silvery emotional
landslide at its peak [6.13] as well as Solti. This is my top recommended
version of the Symphony.
In the First Symphony bravura playing, steely
pliant control and pulse-acceleration takes the music further out beyond
Brahms and Strauss to Tchaikovsky. Brahms' Fourth leaps to mind pretty
often in the fourth movement of the First Symphony as does Tchaikovsky
again (particularly the Fifth and the Pathétique). Solti
is an alchemist in this music and that he achieves this with Boult's
own orchestra is further testimony to his inspirational way with orchestras.
Hearing his recordings again has been a joyous and visceral experience.
Given the choice I would happily have sacrificed the Serenade
for Solti's version of the concert overture In the South.
All these recordings are aided by Kenneth Wilkinson's
engineering and the lively, analytical yet sonorous qualities of the
still lamented Kingsway Hall.