Elgar: Falstaff; Elegy; The Sanguine Fan

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Falstaff; Elegy; The Sanguine Fan
PERFORMER: English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553879
Where Verdi paints Shakespeare’s portly knight as a clown and womaniser, Elgar’s Falstaff – based on the Henry IV plays, rather than the broader comedy of The Merry Wives of Windsor – is a noble dreamer who finds himself out of tune with the times. By the time of the work’s premiere in 1913, Elgar could already sense that his music was going out of fashion, and any performance of Falstaff has to convey a wistful nostalgia as well as Sir John’s swagger and reckless adventures. David Lloyd-Jones establishes a good deal of purpose right from the start; but already in the first exposition of the themes for Falstaff and Prince Hal one senses a lack of ebb and flow, of the fluidity of pulse that is so essential to the Elgar style (his scores are full of extremely precise tempo fluctuations). The two dream interludes also fail to register quite as they should; emotionally and musically they should inhabit a different world from the rest of the piece. Naxos’s recording, made in Leeds University, is serviceable enough but fails to do full sonic justice to Elgar’s marvellously rich scoring. The composer’s own account dates from 1931 and is hardly the last word in recorded sound, but the music speaks directly and more spaciously than in the Naxos version (in spite of lasting a minute less); by this stage, Elgar’s personal identification with Falstaff seems to have been even more complete. The 1917 ballet The Sanguine Fan sets a daft Classical plot to which Diaghilev and Nijinsky seem never to have got round; its music is characteristically Elgarian without being especially memorable. Stephen Maddock

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