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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Enigma Variations, Op.36 (1899) [32:06]
In the South (Alassio), Op. 50 [21:47]
Pomp and Circumstance March No.4, Op.39 (1907) [5:11]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Yehudi Menuhin
rec. 1994, C.T.S Studios, London TRING TRP018 [59:19]
Back in 2006, John Philips enthusiastically reviewed the issue on the Regis label of the main work here, the Enigma Variations, accompanied by the Nursery Suite and Chanson de Matin, but rightly lamented the omission of the Alassio from the original recording. The issue here on the aborted, but enduringly valuable, bargain Tring label, is still available and well worth acquiring by any Elgarian who values released and red-blooded interpretations of these seminal works.
John is correct in his assessment of Menuhin as a sometimes indifferent conductor, but equally right in his identification of this as one of Menuhin’s best outings. Furthermore, I am confident that the digital sound of this Tring issue will be superior to, or at least as good as the Regis version, as I have never encountered a recording from this series which is less than excellent.
The intensity of expression in Nimrod and the prominent timpani in the exhilarating climax to the Enigma Variations are typical of the features which mark this out as perhaps the most satisfying of all the interpretations available. Every variation is given an ideal realisation and the RPO is in top form. Nimrod begins surprisingly briskly but builds with such sure-footed momentum and avoidance of sentimentality that it is perhaps the most moving and convincing I know. The ensuing delicacy of the Dorabella Intermezzo forms the perfect contrast to the preceding grandeur, but there are no missteps anywhere in this sequence of variations; Menuhin embraces all the requisite musical moods and modes, from lyrical tenderness to near-bombast, with flawless, effortless aplomb.
Alassio is one of my favourites of Elgar’s compositions; I love its Straussian exuberance, a kinship which is intensified by its reliance upon the prominence of whooping horns. It receives a splendid rendition here; this is twenty glorious minutes of Italianate warmth and colour – no English reserve or reticence to compromise its impact. The final couple of minutes are as thrilling and invigorating as one could wish – and all the better for Menuhin giving a certain broad spaciousness the tempo.
A rumbustious account of the Pomp and Circumstance March No.4 completes a superb selection of some of Elgar’s finest music. Of course these are not necessarily the only, or even the most, recommendable versions of these oft-recorded masterworks, but I unhesitatingly endorse them as a wholly satisfying compilation.