Sea Pictures; Falstaff
Elina Garanča (soprano); Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim
Decca 485 0968 58:58 mins
For nearly 40 years, Daniel Barenboim has championed Elgar as an orchestral composer of the very front rank. His early recordings were a bit sluggish and muddy, which is not generally the case with these Berlin Staatskapelle interpretations which are mostly agile and convincing.
Two sequences don’t work for me: the final, trickiest song of Sea Pictures, its repetitions in need of a quicker pickup; and the last moments of Sir John Falstaff, suddenly slow and sentimentalised. The rest is good, not quite the greatest. Elina Garanča’s beautiful instrument with its contralto hue isn’t engaged with half the colours and subtleties that Janet Baker evokes in the supreme performance with Barbirolli (on Warner); her diction and vowel sounds aren’t ideal. Orchestral details, though, register with delicious point, especially in the first and fourth songs. The bass lines of Falstaff are vitally rich and full of impact in the sudden accents, though I wish generally Barenboim would give more rein to the well-stuffed, grandiose aspect of Shakespeare’s great comic creation. Still, the shadows of the Gadshill exploit are atmospherically done and the string solos of the first ‘Dream Interlude’ as exquisite as they come. For more sheer brilliance, though, Vernon Handley and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Warner) still comes first.