Chadwick • Elgar
Chadwick: Symphonic Sketches; Elgar: Enigma Variations
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Andrew Constantine
Orchid Classics ORC100074
George Chadwick, best known as a director of the New England Conservatory, was several years Elgar’s senior, and an enthusiast – with reservations – for his British colleague’s music. If Elgar became the quintessentially English composer, despite being in many ways an outsider to the establishment, Chadwick could lay claim to being soundly American, exploring a budding national style in the shadow of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. Both works on this disc carry extra-musical associations: in Elgar’s case, his ‘friends pictured within’, and in Chadwick’s four short rhymes (including two lines of Shakespeare) on popular topics of the time, like Christmas (Noël) and Hobgoblins.
Just because a piece isn’t an out-and-out masterpiece is no reason not to hear it. Although Chadwick’s idiom is similar to Elgar’s, his Symphonic Sketches sound dated in a way Elgar doesn’t: he transcended his era with his extra sensitivity and imagination. Victorian sentimentality, or its American equivalent, is out in force. Yet his orchestration is splendidly imaginative and colourful and there’s an appealing zing to the first movement, ‘Jubilee’ (though in this day and age one might find the jaunty picture of ‘vagabonds’ in the finale less appealing).
Elgar’s Enigma Variations comes out a little less well in this performance. It has its moments: Constantine works up ‘Nimrod’ to a point of satisfying high intensity. Elsewhere, though, the energy feels much lower and tempos sometimes turn a bit sluggish as in ‘R.B.T.’ and ‘Dorabella’.
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