Bernard Haitink provides
the unifying 'glue' for this anthology.
He has already made fine versions of
the two Elgar symphonies for
EMI so this functions as an adroit complement.
His Introduction and Allegro is
very impressive; it sings in the not
always kindly acoustic of the RFH. The
massed power and unanimity of the string
orchestra registers strongly. Haitink
is however prone to slower speeds and
can be extremely deliberate: listen
to the magical hesitations at 7:43.
But do you know what? ... it works and
then some. This is a version that deserves
a place in the collection of all Elgarians.
There are more splendidly transparent
recordings but in performance terms
this will take a great deal of beating.
This is an Ariel Square Four or a Rolls
Royce Corniche of a performance: massive
weighty impact and thunderous tonal
riches. It is impressive seeing such
power in flight. Enigma replicates
all the virtues of the string work.
The more playful variations have the
requisite fey and feathery feel (tr.
17 Dorabella and HDS-P at tr. 9). In
Troyte, GRS and EDU the brass are captured
with staggering immediacy so that we
are spared nothing of the masculine
swag and brag of the playing. EDU has
plenty of rollicking weighty magnificence.
The Britten is
also a collector's item. The value of
this recording is greatly enhanced by
the singing of Heather Harper. Let's
face it, Harper’s was one of the great
voices of the century. If you doubt
me then listen to Rats Away or
to Hamilton Harty's Ode to a Nightingale.
Her voice was, at this stage, still
in superb fettle though slightly less
pristine than when she sang the same
work in 1976 for Charles Groves. It
is an extraordinary song-cycle. If you
want to know how extraordinary then
listen to the second song, Rats Away.
It requires vocal gymnastics of the
most extreme and unforgiving magnitude.
The orchestra ‘explodes’ in all directions,
harrooing, erupting, shouting. Britten's
handling of voice and orchestra is remarkable.
I rate this as one of Britten's truly
great works above the usual suspects:
Serenade and Illuminations
and Haitink captures the wild hunt without
compromise. This is a whooping affirmative
headlong pursuit of the quarry. Listen,
in Messalina, to the ululating strings
and to the slip-sliding harmonies of
Dance of Death where the raucous
rush of the music makes unknowing linkage
with Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony.
At other times Orff's Carmina Burana
seems to be in the sights and even
jazz at 6:20. Harper is called on, time
and again, to perform miracles of virtuosity
and these she delivers every time.
As Eduardo Bennaroch
reminds us in his note this was Britten's
first orchestral work
The words are by W.H.
Life enhancing music-making
from the LPO and Haitink. Essential
supplementary listening for devotees
of Elgar and Britten. Harper and Haitink
add nitro-glycerine to Britten's early
masterpiece. In years to come, when
the bones of later works bleach in the
sun, Our Hunting Fathers will
stand clear and magnificent. It is treasure
trove indeed that Heather Harper's assumption
of the solo role has survived in such
The words are printed
in full in the English-only booklet.
These recordings also
capture audience applause.