Edward ELGAR (1857–1934)
Symphony No. 2 in E flat op. 63 [52:20]
Variations on a Theme - Enigma [31:27]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, 13 February 1975 (Broadcast: Music on Two, 16 March 1975) (2); 25 September 1979 (Broadcast: BBC2 In Performance, 20 October 1979) (Enigma)
Director: Peter Butler; Producer: Brian Large (2); Director: Rodney Greenberg (Enigma)
Sound format: LCPM mono; Picture format: 4:3; Menu languages: English; Booklet languages: E/F/G; Region code: 0

ICA have done well - and valiantly – to show us what all the fuss was about with Solti’s LPO Elgar in the 1970s.

They say this is the first time these televised live concert performances have been released on DVD. Were they ever released on videocassette or any other video format – I think not. Solti’s stereo analogue reading of Elgar 2 is known from the Decca LP and cassette recording of the time complete with its iconic sleeve design. It has been much reissued. I saw and still remember the 1975 broadcast under review, believe it or not - on a small black and white TV; it was electrifying even then. Now it has a new breadth and visual zest. It’s an added dimension that really adds usefully to the musical-emotional experience. As for Enigma, Solti’s Decca audio version was with his long-time collaborators, the Chicago Symphony. This DVD allows us to hear him in company with the LPO also at London’s Royal Festival Hall. This venue is splendid in its natural light-wood-appointed walls and floors and with an audience present. There is the odd cough – as at 3.31 in the first movement of the Symphony but nothing really untoward. Neither of these works were filmed in high-definition – unthought of at the time - but the picture is stable and makes for more than acceptable viewing. The Second Symphony is in agreeably clear colour – slightly bleached by comparison with the marginally warmer picture for the 1979 Enigma.

The iconoclastic and passionate Solti flies at the symphony like a Fury. His vitality is mirrored by his athletic podium style with stabbing extravagant gestures that yet stop short of Bernstein’s exuberance. He has the LPO playing at the extreme end of their technical compass. The music exhales breathless excitement especially in I and III with phrases almost, but not quite, falling over each other. This is not thin-lipped Elgar nor is it stiff-upper-lipped. The music goes with a whoop and a sob - Tchaikovskian even. Solti shows absolute identification with the music in his manner and sweeping movements. In the quieter sections he finds time and space for the philosophically reflective. In the finale at 46:33 that stomped out syncopation over wondrously viscous French horns with their mountain-high heroic melody is truly exhilarating.

Enigma comes from an RFH concert four years later and benefits from a warmer bloom to the picture. Again Solti is remarkable for his liberal doses of accelerant and torque. Listen to the skittishly Mendelssohnian Dorabella. WMB, Troyte and GRS are reminiscent of Beecham’s Elgar – not to be dismissed. Solti finds the pulse and keeps it racing. This is not to say that he has no repose as we can hear in WN – another peaceably pastoral kingdom. Nimrod is hushed yet the forward momentum is always present. In the Dorabella viola solo the camera is in the right place but the microphones only lightly pick up the instrument’s sound. The finale ends in a blaze.

The mind implies sumptuous in both cases yet the sound, while being as good as it can be and reporting tiers of detail and emotional punch, is good/competent rather than refulgent.

The broadcast direction for the Symphony has little in the way of zooming in on particular players or benches. It favours the broad view, looking down on the conductor or viewing the span of the orchestra from behind the podium. Enigma indulges the zoomed detailing a little more but not fussily so.

The booklet notes are in English, French and German.

This is a very welcome chance to find out what all the fuss was about with Solti’s headlong passionate Elgar. Pity there was no televised In The South!

Rob Barnett

A chance to find out what all the fuss was about with Solti’s headlong passionate Elgar.

Full track listing:

Symphony No.2 in E flat major, op.63*
1 I Allegro vivace e nobilmente 16.33
2 II Larghetto 14.03
3 III Rondo: Presto 8.14
4 IV Moderato e maestoso 13.30
Directed by Peter Butler
Produced by Brian Large
Recorded: Royal Festival Hall, London, 13 February 1975
Broadcast: Music on Two, 16 March 1975
Variations on an Original Theme, op.36 ‘Enigma’
5 Theme: Andante 2.27
6 Variation I (C.A.E.) L’istesso tempo 2.06
7 Variation II (H.D.S-P.) Allegro 0.44
8 Variation III (R.B.T.) Allegretto 1.29
9 Variation IV (W.M.B.) Allegro di molto 0.33
10 Variation V (R.P.A.) Moderato 2.01
11 Variation VI (Ysobel) Andantino 1.23
12 Variation VII (Troyte) Presto 0.56
13 Variation VIII (W.N.) Allegretto 1.53
14 Variation IX (Nimrod) Adagio 3.41
15 Variation X (Dorabella) Intermezzo: Allegretto 2.42
16 Variation XI (G.R.S.) Allegro di 0.56
17 Variation XII (B.G.N.) Andante 2.42
18 Variation XIII (***) Romanza: Moderato 2.35
19 Variation XIV (E.D.U.) Finale: Allegro — Presto 5.19
Directed by Rodney Greenberg
Recorded: Royal Festival Hall, London, 25 September 1979
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti