If there is a more quintessential British composer than Elgar, I don't know who it is. And if there is a more quintessential work by Elgar than his 'Enigma Variations' the same holds true. Here we have, with Sir Andrew Davis conducting the BBC Symphony, not only a fine performance of the work, but also a documentary about the piece itself featuring Davis who tells us much about each of the people who inspired the individual variations while wandering about the beautiful Malvern Hills, Elgar's home, the Worcester Cathedral and environs. He elucidates the nature of the relationships between Elgar and his subjects. Periodically there are appropriate short film clips from the early years of the twentieth century including some of the composer himself. There is a particularly amusing clip, skillfully synchronized with the music, featuring several dogs running and jumping into a brook and back out again, while Davis talks about Elgar's friend G. R. Sinclair's bulldog, Dan.
Separate from the documentary section, the uninterrupted performance takes place in the grand space of the Worcester Cathedral whose warm acoustic lends a lovely aural patina to the performance. One feels positively Edwardian in its sonic embrace. At the beginning of each variation there is a black-and-white photograph of the person whom the variation depicts. And, of course, for the variation entitled 'G.R.S.' (organist George Robertson Sinclair) a picture of Dan is shown.
There are tracks for each of the variations and the booklet contains a brief paragraph about each of the 'friends pictured within.' Davis touches briefly on the putative 'secret theme' mentioned by Elgar, but dismisses it as an insoluble puzzle whose solution makes little difference in the long run. Sound is in either LPCM stereo or DTS surround sound. Subtitles for the English narration of the documentary are in German, French, Italian, Spanish and English. TT 85 minutes.
A delightful DVD.