Sir Alexander Gibson conducted some fine performances of Elgar for Chandos
including a fine album that comprised: Froissart; Cockaigne; In the
South and Overture in D minor. His recording that adventurously
coupled The Spirit of England with the Coronation Ode was also
Gibson's Enigma Variations, of course, faces stiff opposition from
many world-famous orchestras and conductors yet this performance compares
favourably with many. The central variations: the two very feminine ones,
a tender W.N. (Winifred Norbury) and a dainty 'Dorabella' which bracket a
noble Nimrod, all shine; so, too, do G.R.S. with a very vivid portrait of
Dan, the bulldog; and a thrilling if a bit wayward but appealing E.D.U. grand
climax. - the sound is a little over-reverberant but it adds a nice spacious
feeling to the proceedings.
Gibson's Pomp and Circumstance Marches face strong competition too. Yet I
cannot ever remember hearing a more convincing performance of No. 2 - full
of bravado and swagger and No. 3 is much stronger than usual too. These are
the lesser appreciated marches of the set. The more famous No. 1 (Land of
Hope and Glory) and No. 4 are well up to the standard of the competition
but I must confess that I was disappointed with No. 5 which I personally
regard very highly. The important rhythmic accents seem blurred in comparison
with rival readings - Boult, for me, reigns supreme here.
The majority of the shorter pieces first appeared as a Chandos Production
conducted by Norman Del Mar on the RCA label in 1976 (RCA LRL1 5133) before
Chandos became a separate entity. The producer was the splendid Brian Culverhouse
and the sound engineer Brian Couzens. The remaining items, conducted by George
Hurst, again as a Chandos Production had appeared, in 1975, on the Polydor
It would be a mistake to dismiss Elgar's shorter, lighter pieces as salon
pieces of no real consequence for they were composed with the same dedication
and craftsmanship as the larger more serious works and are worthy of similar
regard. Both Del Mar and Hurst delivered sympathetic and committed performances
of these little gems. Take Dream Children for instance, so many conductors
can make the opening Andante sound dreary and dirge-like. Not Del Mar he
takes due regard of the quotation at the head of the score (from Charles
Lamb): 'We are only what might have been', and he suffuses the music with
a warm sense of yearning and regret.
Most of these pieces are too well-known to need comment. Soliloquy is the
least well-known piece. This was written as part of a projected suite in
tribute to Leon Goossens; it existed only in short score and it was eventually
orchestrated by Gordon Jacob in 1967. The Woodland Interlude comes from
Caractacus and was a great personal favourite of Elgar's. It featured in
the recording session which Elgar supervised from his bed as he lay dying,
in 1934. The Dream Interludes come from Falstaff and depict Falstaff dreaming
of episodes in his youth. Beau Brummel was a play with Elgar's incidental
music written in 1928 and The Spanish Lady was the projected opera that Elgar
was contemplating towards the end of his life.
From the few sketches Percy Young created a Suite for Strings in 1956. The
quietly rhapsodic violin writing for the hauntingly beautiful Sospiri (Sighs)
was intended for W.H. 'Billy' Reed of the LSO who had given Elgar so much
advice and help in the composition of his Violin Concerto.
A great bargain and highly recommended.