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CD: Buywell

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
- Overture and Venusberg Music (1845) [22:47]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
The Walk to the Paradise Garden (1899-1901) [11:17]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op. 36 (1898-99) [31:24]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Charles Mackerras
rec. live, concert, Arts Centre, Hamer Hall, Melbourne, 24 November 2007
ABC CLASSICS 476 3224 [65:28]
Experience Classicsonline

Mackerras is an Elgarian and Delian past-master and no one will be surprised to see the two composers represented in this Melbourne Symphony performance given at Hamer Hall in November 2007. His Enigma has been admired for years both on record and in the concert hall. He finds portent in C.A.E. and gives wings to the feminine winds in the variation dedicated to Hew David Steuart-Powell, in which the sense of characterisation is strong. Ysobel is sympathetically drawn and there’s very vigorous, bluff brass and percussion work in Troyte. Nimrod is naturally paced, the strings layered finely and not unmoving. Deft articulation permeates Dorabella. The Basil Nevinson variation is very slightly aloof; it has nobility but not, for me, requisite emotional power, and it doesn’t strike me as especially expressively charged. To compensate there is good textual detail in the winds and string choirs in the Finale. Overall this is a good performance. But it’s one of those things that critics tend to write off as ‘nice to have heard at a concert but not so memorable for repeated hearing.’ I’m afraid that’s my view here.

Performances of Delius, amongst so many others, are getting slower and slower. I’m waiting for a Paradise Garden that will hit the quarter hour mark. I’m exaggerating slightly but Beecham used to whip through it, and Anthony Collins was no slouch either. Languor and restful ease is the order of the day when it comes to contemporary performances of this and so many other Delius performances. Mackerras has a portfolio of fine Delius recordings to his name and this one is no exception if you are willing to allow his sense of space: it’s certainly convincing on its own terms but I’m afraid I look nostalgically back to conductors who, in their own way, allowed Delius a greater sense of dynamism and eruptive irascibility. The Tannhäuser Overture and Venusberg Music completes the programme. There’s nothing much with which to quibble here. The orchestra plays finely if not quite with the optimum weight, but the music is artfully and insightfully shaped.

This is an enjoyable release but it’s not top notch.

Jonathan Woolf 

Masterwork Index: All reviews of Elgar's Enigma Variations















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