Beulah has recently
re-released Anthony Collins’ celebrated set of the Sibelius
symphonies (see review),
now they restore to circulation some of his Elgar recordings.
It’s amazing to
think that this recording of Falstaff was set down
over fifty-two years ago. The quality of the sound here is
a tribute not just to Beulah’s transfer but also to the superb
original work of Decca’s Kenneth Wilkinson. It’s also a testament
to the much-lamented acoustics of London’s Kingsway Hall.
Credit is due also, however, to the skill of Anthony Collins
in balancing the often-complex strands of Elgar’s orchestration.
The accompanying notes contains a quotation from Collins in
which he avers, inter alia: “If one is to interpret
great music it is necessary to be a composer”. Now Collins
was a composer himself and though I can think of many great
conductors who were not composers – and, some would say, more
than one composer who should never have picked up a baton!
– it’s not for me to argue with him. However, I would add
that the success of this performance – and the others on the
disc – demonstrate how important it can be to have the thorough
understanding of the internal workings of the orchestra such
as one can only acquire through extensive experience of playing
in one. Collins was principal violist of the London Symphony
Orchestra for many years and that experience shows here. It’s
significant that Sir John Barbirolli, who made fine recordings
of most of the pieces on this disc also had a background as
an orchestral cellist.
1964 recording with the Hallé, also made in the Kingsway Hall,
has long been my favourite version of Falstaff (EMI
CDM 7 69485 2). Collins’ portrayal of the Fat Knight may not
always match Barbirolli’s sweep and warmth, nor his sense
of colour, but I don’t think he’s far behind. He obtains some
very fine and committed playing from his former colleagues
in the LSO and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this convincing
reading. I felt drawn in and in particular all the tempi seemed
natural. As with Barbirolli, this has the feel of a genuine
complete performance and I wonder how close to a single ‘take’
The passage where
Sir John falls asleep - the last 2 or 3 minutes of track 2
- is very well handled – Collins realises Elgar’s marvellously
imaginative orchestration really well. Here, as throughout
the performance, the bass line is given its true weight -
after all, it’s on a solid bass line that so much of the richness
of Elgar’s orchestral scoring is so often to be found. The
‘Dream Interlude’ is tenderly done with some lovely string
As the end of
the work approaches Falstaff’s sadness at his rejection by
Prince Hal and his recollections of their good times together,
now far off, finds Elgar at his wistful best. Collins does
this passage excellently. Falstaff is such a typically
Elgarian work, full of contradictions and contrasts – just
like the man himself – and Collins proves to be equal to the
many challenges of technique and imagination that this wonderful
score contains. His version doesn’t quite displace Barbirolli’s
in my affections but it comes close and I’m delighted to find
this reading once again available.
provides the competition – and formidable competition at that
– in the Introduction and Allegro. His 1963 version
with the Sinfonia of London (EMI CDC 7 47537 2) has something
of classic status, and rightly so. Here I find the recorded
sound for Collins not quite as satisfactory as that accorded
him two years later in Falstaff. On my equipment the
upper strings sounded rather metallic in the opening flourish.
However, the ear adjusts and there’s some animated string
playing to enjoy. The solo quartet play well and the recording
differentiates nicely between them and the main string band
without any feeling of artificiality. At times Elgar’s demanding
writing stretches the players of the NSO but Collins conducts
the work with real fire and empathy and turns in a good performance.
The slender Serenade
is light and easeful music. I like Collins’ way with it; he
brings out its wistful charm. It’s a pity that Beulah don’t
track each of the three short movements separately, something
I’ve never encountered on CD before. For the record the start
of the second movement (track 6) is at 3:04 and the third
begins at 8:05.
marches complete the disc. Collins
does the two familiar Pomp and
Circumstance marches. I was
disappointed by Number 1, which
I felt was hobbled by a tempo that’s
just a fraction too deliberate.
This means that the music is robbed
of the last ounce of brilliant swagger.
This is especially true when we
get to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.
At Sargent's pace the tune sounds
self-consciously stately. It seems
to me that he miscalculates by failing
to look ahead to the fortissimo
repeat of the tune – to say nothing
of the final reprise. The music
needs just a touch more lift and
flow if it’s not to sound stodgy
and I’m afraid it sounds stodgy
here. Its companion fares better.
It may be heretical to say so but
I actually think this is a better
march than Number 1, and not just
because Number 1 has become almost
hackneyed. Here Sargent moves the
Big Tune of the trio along at a
tempo giusto and it flows
naturally and impressively – and
it’s a hell of a good tune! Finally
we get the Imperial March
in a decent performance under Sargent.
It’s good to hear this forerunner
of the Pomp and Circumstance
set, which has been a little
This is a valuable
CD, which reminds us of Anthony Collins’ significant credentials
as an Elgar conductor and its restoration to general circulation
is to be welcomed.
See also Reviews
by Rob Barnett and Lewis Foreman