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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
CD 1
Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55 (1908) [48:47]
Nursery Suite (1931) [20:57]
CD 2
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 63 (1910) [52:30]
The Wand of Youth Suite No. 1, Op. 1a (1907) [20:03]
CD 3
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (1909) [45:36]
In the South (Alassio) Op. 50 (1899-1904) [19:35]
CD 4
Enigma Variations, Op. 36 (1898) [31:06]
Falstaff - Symphonic Study in C minor, Op. 68 (1902) [33:31]
Cockaigne Overture, Op. 40 'In London Town' (1901) [13:57]
CD 5
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 (1919) [27:36]
Overture Froissart Op. 19 (1890) [12:33]
Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos. 1-5, Op. 39 (1901-07) [27:33]
Dream Children Op. 43 [6:36]
Alfredo Campoli (violin); Pablo Casals (cello); Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra (Symphony 2); BBC Symphony Orchestra (Cello Concerto); London Philharmonic Orchestra (CDs 1, 3-5)/Adrian Boult
rec. 1945-1956
REGIS RRC5010 [5 CDs: 69:47 + 73:22 + 65:12 + 78:35 + 74:18]

Experience Classicsonline

These mono recordings belong almost exclusively to the 1950s and carry the usual low level hiss as evidence of their analogue origins.

The murky weight of the 1949 First Symphony soon lightens and becomes very much clearer. In fact as it turns out there is plenty of aerodynamic life and pulsating bite as can be heard in the second movement. The Nursery Suite benefits from a good clean recording and way returns us to Wand of Youth world. There we encounter a sort of Rupert Annual utopia of childhood. There’s nothing untoward about that and a magical mood is sustained.

Boult’s Elgar 2 is invigorating and deft yet imbued with determination. The level of sheer verve is high. While this is not as wild and rejuvenatingly woolly as the 1970s Solti Elgar 2 on Decca this is Boult at his warmest and keenest. In the finale those off-beat kinetically syncopated hammer-blows are as exciting as any version Boult recorded. The 1944 BBCSO version is reputed to be his most vital but for me this 1956 reading stands apart. We have a vigorous and lightly characterised Wand Of Youth Suite No 1 in which Fairy Pipers was surely influenced by Tchaikovsky ballet music. Ballet was a doughty Tchaikovskian.

In the Violin Concerto the Decca sound shreds beside the purer Beulah transfer. Campoli is mature and tigerishly precise in technique. His tone is peachily ripe - obviously a hallmark trait and the Elgar orchestral sound is usually sumptuous. While Boult is often seen as buttoned and stiff-collared here he seems lost in Campoli’s passionate ebb and flow. A lovely performance to set beside the Heifetz/Sargent (still my favourite - Naxos), Haendel/Boult (BBC Radio not Testament) and the Sammons (Naxos).

In the South is passionate and fleet-footed to the point of breathless. The thinner sound tells against this reading and while intriguing it cannot hold a torch to Silvestri (1960s EMI) or Sinopoli (DG).

We hear a satisfying but not outstanding Enigma miserly tracked with only 6 and only EDU having its own track. For a 1953 recording this sounds very good for much of the time though the recording shies away from volume in the EDU finale.

Boult’s Falstaff positively sprints along. Sadly it is in a single untracked run. While lacking the romantic glow of the 1966 Barbirolli recording it is a tonic - so vivid, so sharply etched, chiselled and goaded. The recording renders every detail crisply – and the woodwind solos at 5:35 are character delights every one. The crackly hoarse brass creaks at 7:03 are similarly vivid. It communicates as the aural equivalent of a Kay Nielsen or Edmond Dulac fantasy miniature. The engineers also draw in page-turns and chair creaks; no harm in that. Even so, as an interpretation, it has to take a step down to Bernard Herrmann's most impressive and superbly coloured CBS Falstaff from the 1940s - issued on Andrew Rose's Pristine label.

The last disc starts with Casals in the Cello Concerto – all dramatically whipped and blitzed splendour. It has something in common with the Dupré but everything is zipped up, sharpened, crisp and so much tighter. It’s the audio equivalent of high definition from a virtuoso orchestra. There’s plenty to enjoy and it offers a new and unsettling perspective. Boult recorded this within a year of his Symphony No. 2 also with the BBCSO (Beulah).

Though rather angry in tone this Boult Froissart is magnificently furious and superbly etched. Wow! Sounding cruder than the classic Barbirolli (review of EMI set) and less refined that Boult’s own 1970s version for EMI it has real splendour. The marches bark, growl, blare and bite (No. 1). Boult really means it – each is a little tone poem with many of them suggesting night manoeuvres and lying in wait. The Fourth in particular is quite gripping though it at times presents a more public ceremonial face than the others. By the way when is someone going to record No 6 as recently realised? The two Dream Children, by contrast, are nondescript despite some disarming Tchaikovskian touches in the second of the two.

The liner-note commission is capably but briefly addressed by Hugo Shirley.

This mono set comes in a wallet box at just over 13.00; not sure about that cover. Regis do us no favours by choosing CD envelopes with adhesive lips. The rubbery adhesive makes entry to the disc a challenge. You also run the risk of a gluey strand stickling to the playing surface.

There’s some fascinating Elgar here and Boult brings a virility to these readings that seemed to have left him so far as Elgar is concerned by the 1970s.

Rob Barnett









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