This originally appeared on 2 full-price lps in 1976. The BBC broadcast them on Radio 3. Most of the performance was new, excerpts had been recorded by Elgar on 78s and George Hurst had recorded selections in Bournemouth, very well.
Vernon Handley had top-quality soloists in Valerie Masterson, at her peak, and Derek Hammond-Stroud, characterful and sensitive. The LPO played marvellously for him, with rich sound and extremely expressive phrasing, so vital in this of all pieces.
To hymn this cd would take ages, but there is one moment, for me, which illustrates why this is a great work and a great performance of it. Track 21, verse 4 of the Organ Grinder's song. Towards the end of the verse Handley brings out such delicacy and refinement of sound and phrasing and Hammond-Stoud, sits beautifully on the words "As that night in leafy June, when I caught the children dancing..." This is a tear-inspiring moment, as it encapsulates what Elgar was doing in the work. The booklet essay is a masterpiece of analysis and insight by the great Elgar scholar Jerrold Northrop Moore. Elgar put his whole being into this work and had a unique affection for it - as witness his letters and reactions to its fate.
When, in the final pages, he quotes the first part of "The First Noel", he brings such tears of remembrance and spirit-lifting grace, the work moves even the coldest hearts, knowing that Elgar meant this music very deeply. You cannot appreciate Elgar and not know this work, and this is THE recording to have. It is a great tribute to the late Vernon Handley that we can share in its glories.