Elgar Remastered

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Somm
ALBUM TITLE: Elgar Remastered
WORKS: Cello Concerto; Symphony No. 1; The Kingdom – Prelude; Rosemary; Serenade Lyrique; Cockaigne, etc
PERFORMER: Beatrice Harrison (cello); New Symphony Orchestra; LSO/Elgar
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 261-4

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Elgar conducts Elgar in stereo? When Elgar recorded his own works in the late 1920s, back-up copies were made, and although the evidence is a bit ambiguous, it seems some of these were made with two separate microphones, placed slightly left and right of Elgar’s podium – in other words, real, if ‘accidental’ stereo recording.

Simply combining the two versions however, as though one had two tape tracks, was impossible. All sorts of allowances had to be made: the speed the machines were running at (and hence tempo and pitch) was only one of many factors requiring micro-adjustment. Still the end products, as realised by Lani Spahr, border on the miraculous. Good as the familiar mono recordings are, hearing the opening of the Cello Concerto in Spahr’s beautifully engineered stereo sound is rather like picking up an old sepia photograph and seeing it suddenly acquire colour. Of course it isn’t modern digital sound, but the sense of being present is breathtaking. It’s all the more poignant when, as halfway through the Concerto’s first movement, the sound collapses for a while into mono again – the relevant 78 disc has, alas, vanished.

What Spahr has achieved in his version of the First Symphony, based on previously unreleased alternative takes (not recorded simultaneously with the previously-known ones), is hardly less impressive. So many details – tiny touches of scoring, expression in inner voices – stand out as never before. Elgar’s luminous, wonderfully alive performance sounds forth with stunning clarity; the loss of any potential stereo hardly seems to matter. Among the many appetising miniatures, perhaps the best is the performance of the Cello Concerto’s slow movement by Beatrice Harrison with piano accompaniment from Princess Victoria – HRH’s contribution not blemish-free, but very touching.

Stephen Johnson

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Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.