ALBUM TITLE: Elgar
WORKS: Enigma Variations; Cockaigne Overture (including bonus ‘accidental stereo’ track); Pomp & Circumstance Marches 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
PERFORMER: Royal Albert Hall Orchestra, London SO, BBC SO/Edward Elgar
CATALOGUE NO: 8.111022 (Reissue: 1926-33)
It’s astonishing to think some of these recordings, which originated in EMI’s famous Elgar Edition, are 80 years old. The sound is hardly state-of-the-art, but it’s clear, powerful and focused, with background hiss virtually eliminated – and the sheer electric energy of the performances fairly leaps out of the speakers.
No one has conducted Elgar better than Elgar himself. The daringly fast tempos, the transparency of texture, flexibility of phrasing and sheer spring in the attack that he calls out of players he knew well, are the absolute benchmarks for how this music should be performed. The joyous fierceness of the Third Pomp & Circumstance march, or the ‘Bulldog Dan’ variation in Enigma, are exhilarating. And how much nobler sounds the nobilmente of ‘Nimrod’, or the trios in P & C 1 and 4, when performed as here without an iota of indulged sentiment.
As Ian Julier’s notes remark, these 1926-27 Queen’s Hall performances seem to reflect Elgar’s impatience with the jingoism and sentiment
that had tried to appropriate the marches since their composition. In 1933 he had a new march, the Fifth, to give the same treatment,
and an inspired and inspiring rendition of Cockaigne in which every detail finds its place in a taut yet emotionally generous conception of the piece. Because of the practice of making simultaneous ‘alternate takes’ from a different position in the hall, part of this Cockaigne survives in so-called ‘accidental’ (but genuine) stereo, as we hear in a bonus track. Calum MacDonald