Five essential works by Elgar

We choose the best pieces by the legendary figure of English music, Elgar

Edward Elgar best compositions

Serenade for Strings

Elgar’s earliest masterpiece shows him already a master of writing for strings, with an infectiously lilting first movement, and a contemplative slow movement.

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Recommended recording:
Sinfonia of London/John Barbirolli
EMI 567 2402

Enigma Variations

Though the ‘Enigma’ title continues to intrigue scholars, this series of musical portraits of Elgar’s wife and friends remain ever-vivid, especially the noble ‘Nimrod’.

Recommended recording:
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult
EMI 764 0152

Dream of Gerontius

Elgar’s dramatic oratorio, depicting the journey of a soul from death through purgatory to heaven, sounds in the best sense operatic rather than a stilted work for the church.

Recommended recording:
Richard Lewis, Janet Baker; Hallé Choir & Orchestra/John Barbirolli
EMI 391 9782

Symphony No. 2

The more flamboyant of Elgar’s two finished symphonies, the Second characteristically contrasts opening swagger with a sense of brooding apprehension and reflection, and includes a nightmarish whirlwind for a scherzo.

Recommended recording:
Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli
EMI 968 9242

Cello Concerto

Elgar’s final masterpiece, written in the aftermath of the First World War and shortly before the death of his wife Alice, is noble and restrained yet unmistakably expresses grief for an irretrievably lost era.

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Recommended recording:
Jacqueline du Pré; LSO/John Barbirolli
EMI 562 8862