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England's Greatest Composer Conducts and Plays His Own Music.
on 23 April 2011
As well as being of enormous historical interest and value, Elgar's electrical recordings of his own music remain amongst the very finest ever made. The technical quality of this reissue is quite amazing and, apart from the mono sound, the listener has to make very few allowances for it. The various orchestras perform to a high standard under Elgar's baton and the, then usual, use of portamento is never distracting and adds greatly to the effectiveness of these performances. Elgar's tempi are much faster than we are used to today but, for example, his readings of the symphonies and Enigma Variations have a rightness about them that is totally convincing.
Almost all of the composers major orchestral works are here together with extracts from Gerontius and The Music Makers recorded 'live' at the Albert Hall and during the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford. Also included are the fascinating piano improvisations Elgar made in 1929 and which, of course, were never intended for commercial release. More than mere doodling, these provide a wonderful and unique insight into his compositional technique.
We hear Elgar's speaking voice during a rehearsal extract from the second symphony and introducing Land of Hope and Glory at the opening of the Abbey Road studios. The final disc ends with some orchestral extracts from Caractacus supervised by Elgar by 'phone from his sick bed a month before his death and both 'Mina' - a charming late piece descriptive of his beloved cairn terrrier and the Coronation March conducted by Landon Ronald - the man who persuaded Elgar to record for the first time in 1914.
This is a wonderful set which, as well as including such well-known and, justly often reissued, recordings such as the Violin Concerto with Menuhin and Cello Concerto with Beatrice Harrison, contains many very fine performances which have been out of the catalogue for far too long.
The notes on the recordings by Jerrold Northrop Moore are excellent but I would have preferred them to be more extensive and could have well done without the very interesting, but inessential, essays by Anthony Griffith and Andrew Walter on 78rpm recording techniques and digital remastering procedures.
One of the few absolutely essential purchases for all lovers of English music, this set can be recommended without reservation.