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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
CD 1 [64:01]
Symphony No. 1 in A flat, Op. 55 (1908) [49:33]
Overture Cockaigne, Op. 40 (1900) [14:21]
CD 2 [73:40]
Symphony No. 2 in E flat, Op. 63 (1910) [52:57]
Sea Pictures, Op. 37* (1899) [20:28]
Della Jones (mezzo)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras (CD1)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras (CD2)
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, CD1: April 1990; CD2: March 1993. DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 8277 [64:01 + 73:40]
Experience Classicsonline

Mackerras here proves himself a fine Elgarian and far more than competent.

He is expert in pacing and balance. This can be sensed from the confident steady gait of the opening of the First Symphony through to the fly-away fantasy of the Allegro molto and the return to auburn sunset in the attentively shaped Adagio. The recording is splendid with a very nice rasp on the brass – witness the trombone almost drawing blood off the listener’s earlobes in the finale. The magnificently bellowing horns recall at 9:09 Harty’s With the Wild Geese.

Mackerras also delivers a sprightly and characterful Cockaigne with plenty of drive and idiosyncratic tone. Again the brass are rambunctious (6:34).

Mackerras sails into the start of the Second Symphony with torrential power which keeps coming. This ends up producing a giddy feeling as if a clock mechanism has gone haywire. The Larghetto provides stillness but its climax lacks the slashing emotional power of the Solti or Colin Davis’s recording on LSO Live. The finale develops an admirable stomp and is exciting without a doubt but does not at its climax at 8:04 onwards the greater deliberation takes away some of the rush felt in the hands of Svetlanov, Barbirolli, Solti and even Boult.

I had just been listening to George Weldon and Gladys Ripley in Sea Pictures. Ripley was an alto while Della Jones is a mezzo. Even so Jones sounds groaningly deep and she fulminates impressively in The Swimmer. She manages to fend off the plummy oh-so-British delivery but even so she is not as clear in her enunciation as Ripley nor does she seem to engage as closely with the words. The orchestral part is glorious and Mackerras points up the delicate writing with mastery.

Raymond Tuttle’s background notes are helpful.

The words of Sea Pictures are not included.

In terms of exegesis I would not place this above the Solti recordings – also on Decca. The fully digital sound is naturally superior to early 1970s Decca analogue even from the fine team they had in those long gone days. However these Mackerras readings satisfy with insight and excitement.

Rob Barnett



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