George Weldon is probably little more than a name, if that, to
younger collectors. He was far from being a “big” presence, spending
a relatively short time tied to one orchestra (the CBSO) before
being forced to leave by internal politics. After his departure
he spent something of a peripatetic existence; he died on tour
in Cape Town in 1963. The booklet note suggests a certain glamour,
stressing his love of fast cars and a myriad female admirers.
Latter-day readers may raise an eyebrow at this; he was no jetsetter,
rather a solid, dependable thoroughly musical conductor.
year marks the centenary of his birth and Somm have produced
this welcome reissue of three of his key Elgar recordings. Elgar
was a composer very dear to Weldon’s heart and he programmed
his music frequently in the concert hall. The CD comprises the
contents of two Columbia LPs recorded in 1953/54; there was
also a collection of music by Holst, Bax and others which appeared
on Dutton some years ago but currently this seems to be unavailable.
the South is one of
Elgar’s richest pieces, bursting with invention and Mediterranean
colour; it has to be admitted that Weldon, for all his Elgarian
credentials, does not always summon up the exuberance the work
ideally requires. Comparison with Boult’s contemporary LPO account,
or indeed with the composer himself with the LSO in 1930, reveals
a fire and drive that is rather absent from Weldon’s conscientious
but earthbound performance. Weldon is effective enough in the
softer passages - the Canto popolare is particularly
memorable - but he sometimes allows the tempo to drag in the
more dynamic portions of the score. Although Elgar’s marvellous
scoring is faithfully projected, particularly in the “Roman
aqueduct” passage, the performance would have benefited from
a touch more drive throughout.
recording of Sea Pictures is valuable in that it allows
us to hear one of the rare recordings of Gladys Ripley, who
like Weldon was also born one hundred years ago. Like her great
colleague Kathleen Ferrier, Ripley died young (in 1955) but
had established herself as a stalwart of oratorio throughout
the country, singing and recording a memorable Angel in Gerontius
under Sir Malcolm Sargent. It’s good to hear her evenness of
voice production and excellent diction, even if here and there
a touch more temperament wouldn’t have gone amiss. There is
an excess of politeness in her performance, and those familiar
with the more unbuttoned approaches of Dame Janet Baker or Felicity
Palmer may find Gladys Ripley a touch staid. But her affection
for the music is never in doubt.
to the 1953 Philharmonia Enigma Variations, we immediately
become aware that Weldon is operating on a different plane altogether.
While remaining within the mainstream of Elgarian performing
tradition, every variation is individually and imaginatively
characterised while taking its place as part of the whole. The
fast, nervous woodwind figurations in H.D.S.P. and Dorabella
contrast effectively with the sonorous legato of the cellos
in Richard Arnold or G.R.S. The delicacy of Ysobel
is made to contrast with the bluff heartiness of Troyte
or G.R.S., and the recording allows us to hear Elgar’s
scoring to full advantage. Weldon does not see Nimrod
as the climax of the work, and gives the most famous variation
an eloquent yet understated performance. The Finale is seen,
quite rightly, as the proper culmination of the piece, and brings
the disc to a rip-roaring conclusion. One of the finest performances
of the Variations I have heard.
the South and Sea
Pictures were recorded, according to the LSO’s discography,
at Abbey Road in
February 1954; in the same week the LSO adjourned to Kingsway
Hall with Anthony Collins for their famous Decca recording of
Falstaff. Collins was able to extract playing of considerably
more passion from the LSO. It’s a pity that room could not have
been found for Weldon’s Philharmonia Cockaigne; I recall
from my father’s old MFP LP that it was quite superlative.
sound in all three works is remarkably full, rich and resonant,
having been remastered by the original producer, Brian Culverhouse
- who also contributes a short note on Weldon to the booklet.
In Sea Pictures and Enigma the organ makes a welcome
and clearly audible appearance.
fine, mainstream Elgar performances from the 1950s; In the
South and Sea Pictures just lacking the last degree
of imagination, the Enigma Variations something more
Review by Rob