Naxos has assembled
quite a catalogue of Elgarís music, including some very fine
recordings indeed. Now they are leveraging it with this 2 CD
set called The Very Best of Elgar. Not perhaps an ideal
title, but the disc does include a selection from some of Elgarís
best works. The recordings from which they are sourced are a
little mixed, but all the tracks are creditable and form a good
superb recording of Elgarís Symphony no. 1 is represented by
the second movement, Allegro Molto, and from Edward Downesís
equally fine account of the Symphony No. 2 we get the 3rd
movement, Rondo. I only wish that Naxos had chosen to
include one of the bigger, more emotional episodes, such as
the opening movement of the First Symphony. Given that they
also have a notable account of the Anthony Payneís reconstruction
of the Third Symphony in their catalogue, it is a shame that
it was not included.
account of Nimrod from the Enigma Variations is
another movement that makes me long to hear more, but I suppose
that is part of the idea. Maria Kliegelís opening movement of
the Cello Concerto, with Michael Halasz conducting, is undeniably
attractive but it is just not in the same class as the recordings
of the symphonies. Kliegelís well-phrased solo part seems to
lack the requisite emotional depth. In the Violin Concerto Dong-Suk
Kang gives an attractive performance of the second movement.
and the Polish National Radio Symphony are rather let down by
an over-bright recording in their performance of the Cockaigne
Overture. The orchestraís performance seems a little too
regularly phrased and four-square, which made me wonder how
much Elgar they had played. The same conductor and orchestra
re-appear in the Violin Concerto where we hear Dong-Suk Kang
give a decent enough account of the 2nd movement,
Andante. I would not want to live with this recording,
but in the context of an exploration of Elgarís music it is
perhaps adequate enough.
the two Pomp and Circumstance marches come over very well as
does a movement from the Wand of Youth Suite, all played by
the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Judd. George
Hurstís performance of the Imperial March displays some
fine Elgar conducting, even if the work is not one of the composerís
Whilst it is good
to have the whole of the Introduction and Allegro, rather
than an excerpt, I found Adrian Leaper and the Capella Istropolitana
a little too stolid, their performance well constructed but
lacking the light and shade and flexibility of phrasing that
is needed. The same is true of their performance of the opening
movement of the Serenade for Strings.
singing of Where corals lie, the fourth movement of Sea
Pictures, is lovely and she is well supported by Simon Wright
and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The performance is not
quite in the class of Janet Bakerís classic version, but there
is certainly enough in it for me to want to seek out the complete
Another area where
the selection falls down a little is with the oratorios. We
get a substantial choral extract from The Dream of Gerontius,
but only the short choral introduction to The Apostles,
done with organ accompaniment. Neither extract showcases Elgarís
dramatic writing for the voice such as The Sun Goeth Down
from The Kingdom. Still, Christopher Robinson and the
Choir of St. Johnís College give a profoundly lovely account
of The Spirit of the Lord is upon me from The Apostles.
And the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and the Waynflete Singers
are equally superb in the massive Praise to the Holiest
chorus from The Dream of Gerontius. Judging by the tiny
fragment of Gerontiusís solo part with they include, William
Kendall is a little over-parted, but it would be hard to judge
without hearing more of the performance.
and St. Johns also perform Elgarís setting of the Latin hymn,
Ave Verum Corpus. This is a tiny masterpiece, simple
and elegant, beautifully performed.
Besides the symphonies,
the other area where the Naxos catalogue contains particularly
strong performances is in Elgarís chamber music. Peter Donohoe
and the Maggini Quartet give a brilliant account of the third
movement, Andante-Allegro, of the Piano Quintet and the
Maggini Quartet give an equally fine performances of the opening
movement of the String Quartet.
get a couple of Elgarís lighter pieces. Salut díamour is
played by Takako Nishizaki, whose violin is sweet-toned, if
a little wiry for my taste. Sospiri is one of those works
that can seem to reveal hidden depths, if given the right performance.
It does so here, where David Lloyd-Jones and the Northern Sinfonia
make Elgarís elegiac piece seem profoundly moving.
collection is aimed at listeners other than critics; it is intended
to win over people who are perhaps curious about Elgar but would
think twice about buying a disc of his symphonies or the complete
Dream of Gerontius. Naxos have put together a well judged
selection of movements which include quite a few which would
definitely send me scurrying to find the complete recording.
This isnít a disc
for the library shelves, but it is definitely one to consider
as a present for a god-child who is interested in finding out
more about one of the towering figures of English music, and
hearing some fine performances in the process.
Links to previous reviews of these recordings
of Youth Suite