The venerable Halle Orch. has released nearly a dozen Elgar recordings, undertaking an orchestral wries that comes in vivid, detailed sound. Even if this CD under Mark elder, containing two of Elgar's sure-fire hits, were musically conventional, its sound alone beats almost every rival (i reserve a soft spot for Pierre Monteux's Enigma Var. on Decca, with a spectacular London Sym. caught in wide-screen Fifties sound). The Halle, despite some bumpy times financially, sound as if they are in fine shape musically.
Every notable British conductor has recorded the Enigma Var. twice a week just to keep his hand in, so what can Elder offer musically? Aided by such a detailed recording, his approach is to probe every variation for overlooked aspects of orchestration; in addition, he often takes slightly slower tempos in order to underline expressive phrasing. Leonard Bernstein took the same approach but produced overkill by loving th score to death. There are moments when elder risks doing the same, but he's too sensible. I won't say that he reaches the level of Simon Rattle or Monteux, t mention my favorites, and there are moments, as in Nimrod, where what should feel deeply moving doesn't. Even so, this is a reading that holds your attention.
The main filler is Elgar's affectionate tribute to London, the Cockaigne Over. I like it played rambunctiously, but elder starts off moderately, builds to a good climax, and yet never quite lets go. Elgar isn't exactly Rossini, but when he's unbuttoned, shouldn't sparks fly? I got more pleasure out of the Chanson de matin, a dreamy melody set for small orchestra; it floats by like movie music form the days when the local Bijou was more like a palace. To add further spice, the CD ends with the premiere recording of Elgar's original ending to the Enigma Var. The music is not enough different, however, to be more than a passing curiosity.