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Edward ELGAR (1865-1934)
Major Orchestral Works
Two Symphonies, Concertos for Cello and Violin, Enigma Variations, Introduction and Allegro, In the South, marches

CD1 8.550634 [53.49]
Symphony No. 1 (1908) [49.29]
Imperial March (1896) [4.20]
BBCPO/George Hurst
CD2 8.550635 [56.03]
Symphony No. 2 (1911) [56.03]
BBCPO/Edward Downes
CD3 8.550489 [61.10]
Violin Concerto (1910) [45.50]
Overture: Cockaigne (1901) [15.20]
Dong-Suk Kang (violin)
Polish National Radio SO/Adrian Leaper
CD4 8.550849 [70.51]
Cello Concerto (1919) [30.44]
Introduction and Allegro (1905) [14.48]
Elegy (1909) [3.59]
Serenade (1892) [11.38]
Salut d'Amour (1888) [3.25]
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (1909) [6.01]
Maria Kliegel (cello)/RPO/Michael Halász (concerto)
Capella Istropolitana/Adrian Leaper (all except concerto and march)
CSR SO (Bratislava)/Adrian Leaper
CD5 8.553564 [58.47]
Enigma Variations (1899) [29.00]
In the South (1904) [20.54]
Coronation March (1911) [8.54]
Bournemouth SO/George Hurst
rec. Concert Hall, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, Apr 1992 (Sym 1, Imperial March), 16-17 Mar 1993 (Sym 2), Polish Radio, Katowice, 13-16 Apr 1991 (Violin Cto), Wessex Hall, Poole Arts Centre, England, 7-8 Sept 1995 (Enigma, In the South, Coronation March), Henry Wood Hall, London, 8-10 Nov 2001 (Cello Cto), 12-15 Apr, 17-19 Sept 1989, Moyzes Hall, Bratislava, Slovakia (Introduction and Allegro, Serenade, Elegy), 9-15 Jan 1989, Concert Hall, Czechoslovak Radio, Bratislava. DDD
all discs also available separately
NAXOS 8.505076 [5CD set: 5 hours 40 mins]
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It is one of the platitudes of classical record reviewing that boxed sets of works all conducted by the same conductor are to be avoided. While conductor X may be devastatingly effective in Mahler 7 he is for example flaccid in Mahler 9. The connoisseur is urged to acquire piecemeal choosing the best here and there according to taste from whichever source. Sometimes this can be done economically; more often than not it is a game accessible only to the affluent or those prepared to bide their time.

As if to confound the critics this box (though driven I am sure by other imperatives) provides the indigent purchaser with a variety of approach and the convenience and economy of a single boxed set. This is very much a mix and match job. The unifying factors are Elgar and that these versions derive from Naxos's digital catalogue assembled over the 1990s.

Here we have Hurst conducting Elgar 1, Enigma, Alassio and the Coronation March, Downes in Elgar 2, Leaper in the major string works, Kang in the Violin Concerto and Kliegel in the Cello Concerto. Orchestras include the Bournemouth (whose classic Silvestri Alassio is a still a force in the land), the Polish National Radio Orchestra in the Violin Concerto, the BBC Phil in the two symphonies, the RPO in the Cello Concerto, the Capella Istropolitana in the string works. The all-digital recordings were made over the period 1989 to 1995. Each of the five discs are to be had separately so if you want some rather than all you have the best of both worlds. Naxos could have made the collection closer to comprehensive by adding 8.553879 with Lloyd-Jones' subtle Falstaff. Anyway it can of course be added if you wish.

Leaper draws from the Capella Istropolitana an ardently urgent performance of the Introduction and Allegro which I can recommend to you firmly. This has cross-grained surge and swell that will have you on the edge of your seat. It would be a much stronger contender if the glow on what sounds to be a large body of strings was not so much neon glare as silvery aura. Anyway do hear it! Leaper even makes something engaging of the Serenade!

These two symphony discs are well thought of among most critics. However, much against my natural sympathies, I found Downes too weighty to the point of being ponderous and stolid - not qualities I usually associate with this brilliant creative artist. The performance has life of course but it tracks towards the extremes mapped by Barbirolli (remember, in the 1960s, his EMI set spread with Brucknerian generosity across two LPs! - though I think the fourth side was blank) and the later Boults (Boult was wonderful in his 1950s Sibelius, 1970s Howells, Butterworth and Moeran but could be curdled and stodgy in Elgar and sometimes in Vaughan Williams). I prefer the rip and snort of Solti's 1970s recording (now in irresistible Decca harness with the First Symphony). On the other hand Hurst's First Symphony is given a fiery reading that really kindles the vitality and exuberance of the work. There is something approaching anger in his reading which at the same time does not sacrifice the nostalgic, sturdy-steady nobilmente tread.

Hurst is also superb with the orchestra which has been his guest home for many years (my first orchestral concert was conducted by this dapper and temperamental man - Paignton's Festival Theatre - an all Tchaikovsky affair!). The panache of his Enigma and In the South rival the Beecham Sony version of the former and Silvestri's classic EMI account of the latter with the same orchestra. The Cello Concerto with Kliegel's close but articulate attention to the singing line is a sturdy choice. Kang is pretty closely recorded and he can sometimes seem hard-toned; even so this is a performance to cherish against some very stiff competition from Zukerman (Sony - not the later BMG), Sammons, Bean, Heifetz and even Campoli.

This is an inexpensive collection (cheaper than buying separately). A winning choice both for the Elgar novitiate and the seasoned Elgarian who may have previously passed by on the other side of the street. Hearing these versions will cast new light on well-loved works and in several cases (Symphony 1, Violin Concerto, In the South, Introduction and Allegro and Enigma) will startle those whose predisposed judgements have put down deep roots towards more consensually supported readings.
Rob Barnett


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