HumanitiesWeb.org - The Passing of an Era - Edward Elgar [Recommended Recordings]
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Site last updated
26 June, 2013

Edward Elgar
Recommended Recordings



Cello Concerto, Sea Pictures
(Jacqueline Du Pré, Dame Janet Baker; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir John Barbirolli, conductor)
This is rightly regarded as the finest recording of Elgar's attractive and elegiac Cello Concerto. It's held in almost irrationally high esteem in the UK, largely because of the universal affection for Jacqueline Du Pré, the wife of Daniel Barenboim, whose early death from multiple sclerosis cut short what would have been a stellar career. This disc is equally noteworthy for Janet Baker's magnificent singing of the Sea Pictures, the composer's only orchestral song cycle. It's not Elgar's fault if the tune of the last song sounds like an excessively inflated version of "Hello, Dolly!" A classic then, even if neither work is a raging masterpiece. (review by David Hurwitz)

Enigma Variations, etc
(Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; David Zinman, conductor)
These are performances of such outstanding authority that even the British have praised them as among the very best available. The Baltimore Symphony plays with the utmost conviction and enthusiasm--Cockaigne really rocks, and the finale of Enigma, with a very well balanced optional organ part thrown in, is a sonic showcase. In fact, Telarc's sound is the best this music has ever been offered, with an especially impressive deep bass extension. There are many fine recordings of the Enigma Variations, but this one deserves an honored place in your collection. (review by David Hurwitz)

Symphonies 1 & 2, etc
(B. B. C. Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Davis, conductor)
Conductor Andrew Davis suffers from occasional bouts with that dreaded British bug--chronic dullness. He's not by any means a bad conductor, but you can always tell when he feels energized by the music he's playing or recording. Elgar is one of his great loves; that much is clear. These are his second recordings of the two symphonies, and they are excellent in every respect. Davis shapes both with a firm hand and a clear view of his final destination. Teldec's recorded sound is especially fine, naturally encompassing the extremes of Elgar's rich orchestration without unnatural spotlighting. At two discs for the price of one, this set is a great deal. (review by David Hurwitz)

The Music Makers, The Dream of Gerontius
(Dame Janet Baker, Nicolai Gedda, et al; London Philharmonic Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, et al; Sir Adrian Boult, conductor)
Elgar's Dream of Gerontius is, in effect, a sung tone poem and resides at the core of English choral music; it is the supreme achievement among Elgar's large-scale works. Interestingly, its premiere came in the last months of the 19th century, a time, much like our own, when fluctuating styles and experimentation existed alongside a lingering and powerful devotion to the older, traditional ways. Thus, the release of this classic 1975 recording (intelligently paired with another sumptuous, musically significant choral work, The Music Makers) is not only timely but serves to remind us of how successfully Elgar bridged both Romanticism's dwindling currents and the swelling streams of impressionism and atonality. This performance, featuring the 86-year-old Adrian Boult in total, rock-steady command, shows what magic can happen when conductor and performers are in complete sync, musically and philosophically. The melodies are abundant and beautiful, the choral writing is magnificent, and the sound, especially in Gerontius, is full and vibrant. (review by David Vernier)

Violin Concerto
(Itzhak Perlman; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta, conducting)
Perlman's Elgar has always caused consternation among English critics, largely because it's so much better played from a purely technical point of view than any performance by an English violinist. With its relatively swift tempos, the performance is sometimes judged to be lacking in repose and "inwardness," whatever that is. All of this is complete nonsense. Perlman's playing of this extremely long and difficult concerto places it squarely in the grand Romantic tradition, which is precisely where it belongs. He plays the pants off the piece, and in Daniel Barenboim he has an excellent Elgar conductor leading an orchestra (the Chicago Symphony) of almost peerless quality. An essential Perlman disc. (review by David Hurwitz)

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