recordings of his own music have come to be regarded as one
of the great achievements of gramophone history, but it was
not ever thus. In his own day Elgar was not looked upon as an
invariably effective conductor. Bernard Shore, the leading viola
of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the thirties, played under
him on several occasions and recalled in “The Orchestra Speaks”
(Longmans 1938, p.134):
Elgar in his later life conducted some things extremely well,
though he was perhaps never quite first-rate. His command of
the stick increased with his years, and though he did not overcome
a certain woodenness and failed to accompany his concertos well,
his variations and particularly ‘Falstaff’ and the 2nd
Symphony were admirable under his direction. He had a great
admiration for the orchestra and showed it in his attitude towards
the players, who consequently did their utmost. Never was he
seen to lose patience, and certainly never his dignity.
If dignity still means something, Elgar personified it in
the great sense. There was never any affectation, and that grand
figure facing the orchestra at a concert of his own works, near
the end of his long journey, has left a picture that will never
be dimmed in the minds of those present.
felt obliged to include the second paragraph, without which
the reservations expressed at the beginning might seem grudging
indeed. It has to be remembered that the failure to record Kreisler
in the Violin Concerto was due to Gaisberg’s insistence that
Elgar must conduct it and Kreisler’s feeling that he wasn’t
really up to it.
the earlier LP era, up to the end of the 1960s, the full range
of material conducted by Elgar was practically unknown and inaccessible.
A handful of recordings, including the 2nd Symphony,
were put on LP for the centenary in 1957 and Pearl began to
transfer the early acoustic 78s as they gradually came out of
copyright. Then, during the 1970s, the American Elgar expert
Jerrold Northrop Moore began to persuade EMI of the importance
of these recordings which were then transferred in their totality.
Moore was also an enthusiastic writer and broadcaster on the
subject and the revised perception came about that these recordings
actually enshrined Elgarian basics that had been forgotten over
the years. A further boost came when Georg Solti took an interest
in the music and explained in the inevitable interview that
he had listened to recordings of the symphonies under Barbirolli
and Boult, but had become convinced when he heard the composer’s
sort of reassessment is a fairly familiar one with composer-conducted
recordings. Those under Walton have also acquired authority
with the passing years. In his case I can personally testify
that he didn’t look like a conductor, beating time stiffly and
rather woodenly. Probably Elgar gave a similar impression. However
orchestras, while they have short shrift with a so-called professional
conductor with such a limited technique, will take a lot of
trouble to understand the intentions of a composer whom they
admire for his music. Especially if the composer treats them
with respect, as Elgar did.
most problematic movement of the second symphony to modern ears
will be the finale. After a fairly steady opening Elgar stomps
through the second subject like a military march and even its
continuation, so memorably quoted in “The Music Makers”, is
hustled through. The final meltdown is made to seem unprepared,
almost tacked on. For as long as this remained the only recording
available, those who claimed that Elgar’s symphonies were merely
jingoistic had a powerful weapon in their hands.
is also disconcerting – if exciting – to find Elgar ramming
through his many tempi changes in the first movement as if they
didn’t exist, and the question must be asked whether his stick
technique would have enabled him to obtain them. On the other
hand the hushed playing he gets at the beginning of the development
is memorable, as is much of the slow movement. Here was another
case, though, where I felt the music needed more space to express
itself. Way back in 1968 Roger Fiske made an interesting point
when reviewing the Boult/Lyrita recording for Gramophone:
That famous wailing counter-theme on the oboe at the recapitulation
seems clearer than I ever remember it. Before the war one was
only just aware of it, and I’m not sure that it benefits from
quite so much emphasis, though this may be just conservatism
on my part (Gramophone 10/1968 p.503).
conservative ears may wonder at a performance which barges through
this moment leaving the oboe to fend for itself in the background.
five recordings of this symphony progressively take their distance
from the jingoistic view. His final version
is, in my view, one of his greatest records. The apparently
triumphal mood is undermined from the beginning and the result
is a personal, as opposed to a national, statement. All such
opinions are necessarily subjective, though, and Rob Barnett
feels very differently.
once admitted in an interview that nobody had been able to match
the “nervous fire” with which Elgar conducted his own music.
But he also told Trevor Harvey that he had once listened to
Elgar’s recording of one of his symphonies before conducting
it at a Promenade concert and regretted having done so, since
he then hurried his own performance. I wonder if the audience
agreed that he had hurried the music, though. [Scholarship
requires that the source of such quotations be revealed. I can
only say that the former came from a radio interview which may
or may not be conserved in the BBC archives while the latter
could be found in Gramophone with a little patience].
Barbirolli and first-generation Elgarians certainly felt they
were doing Elgar a favour in applying their professional skills
to the music and giving it that little extra space to communicate
itself to the public. For the public of their own day they were
surely right. Leonard Slatkin has more recently said that, wonderful
as Elgar’s own recordings are, they sometimes seem to have been
made for “other ears”. [Again, I’m quoting from memory an
interview given in Gramophone]. Georg Solti’s attempt to
reinstate Elgar’s own tempi has remained practically isolated.
In general the modern trend, as exemplified by Thomson, Sinopoli,
Haitink et al, has been towards tempi that make Boult and even
Barbirolli sound frisky by comparison. This is presumably the
way the late 20th century wanted to hear its Elgar.
wonderful, though, that the work of
each generation of Elgarian interpreters
is preserved so that later generations
can learn from it. And how wonderful,
especially, that the composer’s own
interpretations can be heard in more
than acceptable sound for the date,
carefully transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn.
The disc also includes the first take
of part one of the Rondo, remade because
of some extraneous noises and a patch
of untidy playing. In the 1970s a few
minutes of the rehearsal were also issued.
Since copyright lapses 50 years from
the issue date, not the recording date,
this was not available to Naxos. [see
spite of Shore’s claim that Elgar did not accompany his concertos
well, he seems to have managed them successfully enough with
certain artists whose interpretations pleased him. One such
was apparently not Felix Salmond, who gave the first performance
of the cello concerto with the composer conducting, but he immediately
warmed to Beatrice Harrison. They made an abridged recording
as early as 1919 and Elgar thereafter always asked to have her
as soloist when he was to perform this work. The interpretation
was well tried and tested by 1928, therefore.
modern ears it was the Du Pré/Barbirolli recording which made
history. More recently its slow tempi have been questioned,
often citing the Harrison/Elgar as evidence. For myself I would
be content with Pini/van Beinum for a return to Elgarian basics.
The concept is much the same but Harrison’s style can seem a
little dated today. Those phrases in the scherzo in which the
cellist holds back the orchestra, for example. They are very
slow, with big portamenti between every note. I was also
interested to find the first movement a little slower than I
expected it to be, but the third movement and the slower parts
of the finale all show how our ideas of slow tempi have stretched
out to breaking point over the years.
then, are some essential documents of British musical history.
I hope Naxos will gradually cover the entire Elgar-conducted
by Tim Perry
received from Edward Johnson
Howell makes a common mistake in his
Elgar review when he says "Copyright
lapses from the issue date, not the
recording date." This error has
unfortunately prevented a lot of material
being released that could have been.
It is very clearly explained in Tony
Kent's "Sound Recordings"
article (link below). The facts are
that any and all pre-1957 recordings
go out of copyright 50 years after their
recording dates, regardless of when
they were issued, or indeed if they
were never issued at all. Where the
confusion lies is because the 1956 Act
provided for copyright to apply for
50 years after both the recording date
and / or the publishing date. Importantly,
that Act was not retrospective, so all
pre-1957 recordings remain unaffected
and still go out-of-copyright 50 years
after their making date. That's why
we on Cala can reissue pre-1957 Stokowski
recordings with no fear at all ... it's
all quite legit.! ... This is UK law
of course but it still applies to any
recording, regardless of the country
of origin. However, it is all far more
convoluted in the States.
But Tony Kent explains it all very
clearly so please forward this to Christopher.
It means of course that Naxos could
have put that rehearsal on their CD
after all ... the date of its release
on an LP in the 1970s is neither here
nor there because it was recorded long
All best wishes,
The Leopold Stokowski Society
Link to Copyrght article with salient
para underneath! ...
Importantly, the CDPA also confirms
that the term of copyright in any recording
made before 1st June 1957, whether published
or not, is to endure from the end of
the year in which the recording was