EMI hasn't put these admirable Elgar recordings into a budget twofer because of musical inferiority. the drawback is sheerly one of name recognition. Jeffrey Tate used to guest conduct at the Boston Sym. years ago but otherwise hasn't had much recent presence in the U.S. As far as Elgar conductors go, others have established bigger names: Boult and Barbirolli from the older generation, Colin Davis (quite recently) and Andre Previn from a generation later. But Tate deserves to be up there. His approach to the First Sym. and Cockaigne -- which is almost the length of a tone poem despite its designation as an overture -- is broad and elegiac rather than overtly exciting, but the passion in both performances runs deep.
I find the sound in these two works, recorded together in 1991, badly flawed: dull, congested, lacking in detail. It takes a whole to learn to listen through the muffle. Happily, Sym. 2 and Sospiri, recorded a year earlier in 1990, are clearer. This may help to account for the sunning effect of Tate's interpretation of the symphony, which is exhilarating and unrestrained in its emotionality. The LSO plays magnificently here, making the case for a work that can seem a bit distended and shapeless. Elgar's symphonies are relentless in their earnestness, and maybe a touch of Anglophilia is needed to appreciate their cut-velvet sumptuousness. It's taken a long time for me to love them, but now I do, and although the catalog is full of accomplished recordings, this one is an exceptional bargain with impeccable musical credentials.