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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Edward Elgar conducts Edward Elgar
Overture Cockaigne (In London Town) — Concert Overture, Op. 40 [13.39]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Elgar
rec. 11 April, 1933, EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op. 36 [27:12]:
(Theme [1.49]; C.A.E. (the composer's wife) [1:54]; H.D.S.-P. (Hew David Steuart-Powell) [0.44]; R.B.T. (Richard Baxter Townshend) [1.25]; W.M.B. (William Meath Baker) [0.29]; R.P.A. (Richard Penrose Arnold) [1.54]; Ysobel (Isabel Fitton) [1.22]; Troyte (Troyte Griffith) [0.53]; W.N. (Winifred Norbury) [1.38]; Nimrod (A J. Jaeger) [2.53]; Intermezzo: Dorabella (Dora Penny) [2.32]; G.R.S. (George Robertson Sinclair) [0.48]; B.G.N. (Basil G. Nevinson) [2.15]; Romanza: *** (Lady Mary Lygon) [2.03]; Finale: E.D.U. (the composer) [4.31])
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra/Elgar
rec. 28 April, 30 August 1926, Queen’s Hall, London
Pomp and Circumstance Marches:
No. l in D major [4.25]
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra/Elgar
rec. 27 April 1926, Queen’s Hall, London
No.2 in A minor [4.03]
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra/Elgar
rec. 27 April 1926, Queen’s Hall, London
No.3 in C minor [4.35]
London Symphony Orchestra/Elgar
rec. 15 July, 1927, Queen’s Hall, London
No.4 in G major [4.34]
London Symphony Orchestra/Elgar
rec. 15 July, 1927, Queen’s Hall, London
No.5 in C major [4.15]
London Symphony Orchestra/Elgar
rec. 18 September, 1930, Kingsway Hall, London
Side 3 of the Cockaigne Overture in “Accidental Stereo” [4.52]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Elgar
rec. 11 April 1933, EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
NAXOS HISTORICAL AAD 8.111022 [67.35]

Lovers of English music must continue to be grateful for the excellent contribution that Naxos has made to the genre. They have not only produced new recordings, but have helped resurrect recordings made by now-defunct record companies - such as the series begun by Collins Classics. In addition they are now reissuing historical recordings - on this occasion a disc of Elgar conducting his own compositions.
 
None of these recordings are new to the catalogue and all have already been reproduced by EMI in their Elgar Edition - which contained the CD transfers of 78s and was produced in 1992 in co-operation with the Elgar Society and Foundation. The Elgar Edition, however, was a nine-disc edition and would presumably only have been bought by dedicated Elgar enthusiasts. This Naxos disc contains wonderful performances of the Enigma Variations, Cockaigne Overture and all five Pomp and Circumstance marches.
 
Elgar’s recording of his Enigma Variations was made in the very early days of electrical recordings in London’s Queen’s Hall with the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra. What strikes me in this performance of the Enigma Variations - as, indeed, on the previous LP and CD reissues of the work - is the combination of sensitivity and tremendous panache that Elgar brings to the work. Although the theme is introduced with great feeling and restraint, the rest of the performance is direct and straightforward. The faster movements, in particular, are taken at lightning speed and, at times, the orchestra has difficulty in keeping up with the conductor’s/composer’s requirements. Nimrod achieves tremendous breadth and dignity whilst sticking exactly to the time indicated in the score - coming in at just under three minutes. Contrast this with some performances, such as Slatkin’s, which takes over five minutes! Interestingly, although this transfer is remarkably hiss-free for a recording made in 1926, hiss is rather prominent in the tenth variation, Dorabella. I notice that the transfers from 78s on the EMI set is also troubled by hiss on both this and the subsequent variation.
 
The Cockaigne recording, which opens the disc, took place nearly seven years after the Enigma Variations sessions and was recorded in a purpose-built studio, EMI Abbey Road No. 1 in London. Elgar also benefited by having the three-year-old BBC Symphony Orchestra, which had been meticulously trained by Adrian Boult. The difference is startling. They respond to every nuance and produce a most satisfying performance of a work that can sometimes sound a little heavy and lugubrious.
 
I was glad to see that the bonus track is devoted to side three of the original 78 version of this work – the famous “accidental” stereo recording! A comprehensive description of what this means is given in the excellent notes but – briefly - it was not uncommon during 78 recordings for there to be two master decks on which the wax impression of the recording was made from the electrical microphone - presumably to allow for any disaster during the recording process. Usually a single microphone fed both decks, but very occasionally two microphones were used and thus a stereo recording was actually obtained. Some people may not be convinced that this produces a better sound, but I am. When one compares the two versions the difference is quite startling in the overall warmth and spread of the sound. Note to Naxos – it would be wonderful to have the whole of Elgar’s “accidental” stereo Cockaigne recording ...!
 
These Pomp and Circumstance Marches are earlier recordings, made in 1926, and are all given lively and spirited performances. Listen particularly to No 2, which has an urgency and excitement rarely heard on other recordings. Even Elgar’s later recording fails to match its verve. There’s also a wonderful breadth to the legato in No. 1 during the restatement of the main theme. Since Elgar’s later recording of these marches - along with the Cockaigne on this disc in 1933 - did not include Nos. 3 and 5, the present sequence of recordings is the only complete Elgar-conducted set. Interestingly, although marches 1-4, like the Enigma Variations, were recorded in Queen’s Hall, No. 5 was recorded in Kingsway Hall London in 1930 - the week before its first performance - just prior to the opening of the new EMI Abbey Road studio.
 
Many Elgarians will already have the Elgar Edition set and will therefore not need another version of Elgar’s own recordings. However, the present Naxos disc will, I’m sure, satisfy any music-lover who is interested in hearing a composer’s interpretation of his own music.
 
Em Marshall
 

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