With bright, vivid recorded sound, with abundant orchestral
detail and a rich bass, this is a most attractive Elgar compilation.
In other words, the Chandos engineers have come up with something that
is ideal for Elgar, and which allowed the Scottish National Orchestra
to sound at their considerable best. The brass are appropriately powerful,
the woodwinds beautifully sensitive. If there is a criticism, though
it is not a major one, it is that the string sound might have had a
little more body.
Sir Alexander Gibson was always a committed Elgarian,
regularly conducting the whole gamut of the master's works. He knew
and loved the music, then, but his approach, as preserved here, was
direct, not at all indulgent.
The music gains from this. Witness the bustle and vitality
to be found in Cockaigne, for example. This is a performance
full of affectionate details, less romantically inclined than some (Barbirolli
on EMI comes to mind).
These same points might be applied also to Froissart,
an early work but one which is wholly worthy of Elgar's genius. Gibson's
performance comes off particularly well, and so too does that of the
Handel Overture, a somewhat inflated reworking of music from
the Chandos Anthem No. 2.
The largest of the works in this compilation is the
concert overture (symphonic poem) In the South, and again the
performance is most successful. This among the most Straussian of Elgar's
compositions - the two composers were friends - and there is a real
sweep of passionate intensity from the very beginning. On the other
hand, the sensitive evocation that lies at the heart of the work, with
its finely judged solos for horn and viola, is handled well too.
Much of this music is well served in the recorded music
catalogue, but Gibson and the Scottish National Orchestra should not
be underestimated. These performances will undoubtedly give much pleasure,
and one real bonus of this Chandos issue is that the insert notes are
in English only and therefore long enough to be packed full of useful