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High Definition Tape Transfers

Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Enigma Variations Op.36 (1899) [32:21] ¹
Introduction and Allegro, Op.47 (1904) [14:02] ²
Houston Symphony Orchestra/Lawrence Foster ¹
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch ²
rec. 1978, Jones Hall, live (Enigma); 1958, Boston Symphony Hall (Introduction and Allegro)
HDTT HDCD183 [46:33]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a rather strange conjunction of performances. HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) is aware of its rather graphic typo; this is Munch’s well-known studio Introduction and Allegro, not the advertised Serenade for Strings. Both performances were recorded in America – one live, one not – twenty years apart. The Enigma comes from Houston which once boasted two fine British Elgarians – Barbirolli and Stokowski – at its helm. The Introduction and Allegro comes from patrician Boston.
The Enigma first, then. Lawrence Foster leads this live performance from 1978. I was expecting the worst judging from the ultra-weary opening, where the basses coagulate to accommodate Foster’s gloomy tempo. R.P.A is noble but just a touch generic and Foster avoids the opportunity for internal contrast provided by its central section. He deliberately ensures that it runs smoothly, which will not be a solution favoured by all. The principal clarinet pipes out effusively in Ysobel, and Nimrod is quite conventional, avoiding the hiccup at the end adeptly. There is some wobbly tone in Dorabella, and B.G.N disappoints; too understated. You can hear Foster apply the breaks dramatically in E.D.U. It ends a fitful performance that, to be frank, might not bear too many repetitions.
Munch’s Introduction and Allegro has been reissued a good few times now. He brings a red-blooded, high fibre approach to bear, with aggressive tuttis, and a plethora of maestoso phraseology that threatens to turn pomposo toward the end of the Introduction. The Allegro is graced by a very emphatic fugue. This is a forceful reading that borders on the butch. It certainly makes an entertaining discmate for the Foster Enigma.
As well as the typo the notes are missing half the Enigma’s descriptive narrative – we just get up to variation 7. It’s hard really to see at whom this disc is aimed; adherents will have the Munch, and the Foster is not a market contender. Still, maybe the raison d’être is to preserve that Houston performance as an example of Foster’s association with the orchestra.
Jonathan Woolf


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