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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857Ė1934)
The Very Best of Elgar
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (1901) [6.12] (1)
Salut díAmour (1889) [3.01] (2)
Cockaigne overture (1901) [15.21] (3)
Cello Concerto in E minor (1st Movement) (1918) [9.02] (4)
Piano Quintet (3rd movement) (1919) [10.12] (5)
Sospiri (1914) [4.32] (6)
Violin Sonata (1918) [7.57] (7)
Ave Verum Corpus (1902) [2.40] (8)
Violin Concerto (2nd movement) (1910) [11.06] (9)
The Wand of Youth Suite (6th Movement) (1908) [2.19] (10)
Imperial March (1897) [4.22] (11)
String Quartet in E minor (1918) [8.10] (12)
Symphony No. 2 (3rd Movement) (1911) [8.09] (13)
Enigma Variations (Variation 9: Nimrod) (1899) [3.31] (14)
The Apostles (The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me) (1903) [6.50] (15)
Symphony No. 1 (2nd movement) (1907) [7.28] (16)
Serenade for Strings (1st movement) (1892) [3,14] (17)
The Dream of Gerontius (Part II, ĎBut Hark ! A Grand Mysterious Harmonyí) (1900) [8.59] (18)
Introduction and Allegro (1905) [14.47] (19)
Sea Pictures (IV Where Corals Lie) (1899) [3.35] (20)
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 (1901) [5.17](21)
Takako Nishizaki (violin) (2)
Simone Lamsma (violin) (7)
Dong-Suk Kang (violin) (9)
Jeno Jando (piano) (2)
Peter Donohoe (piano) (5)
Yurie Miura (piano) (7)
Maria Kliegel (cello) (4)
Maggini Quartet (5, 12)
Jonathan Vaughn (organ) (8, 15)
Sarah Connolly (mezzo) (20)
William Kendall (tenor) (18)
Sarah Fryer (mezzo) (18)
Choir of St. Johns College, Cambridge/Christopher Robinson (8, 15)
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus (18)
Waynflete Singers (17)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd (1, 10, 21)
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Leaper (3, 9)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Michael Halasz (4)
Northern Sinfonia/David Lloyd-Jones (6)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/George Hurst (11, 14, 16)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Downes (13)
Capella Istropolitana/Adrian Leaper (17, 19)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill (18)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Simon Wright (20)
NAXOS 8.552133-34 [72.48 + 75.01]

 


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 introduction.

George Hurstís 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.

George Hurstís 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.

Adrian Leaper 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.

Not surprisingly 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 best.

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.

Sarah Connollyís 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 work.

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.

Christopher Robinson 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.

Inevitably we 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.

Inevitably this 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.

Robert Hugill 

Links to previous reviews of these recordings on MusicWeb:

Symphonies, Concertos etc.
Wand of Youth Suite
Marches
Sacred Choral Music
Violin Sonata

 

 


 

 


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