Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars It's a joy to hear the Vienna Phil, but Gardiner isn't a committed Elgarian, 21 Mar 2012
This review is from: Elgar: Enigma Variations (Audio CD)
The music of Sir Edward Elgar is rarely let out of England. Whenever it does, it's an event, especially when we get to hear the Vienna Phil. I love the best of British orchestras (the LSO in particular) but Vienna is on a higher virtuosic plane than any British orchestra. Some reviewers have stated that Vienna sounds clumsy playing Elgar, but I don't think the idea is substantial. They play with astonishing agility and their warm tone is very welcome.

John Eliot Gardiner isn't the world's most inspired conductor, but I hoped he would be able to impart some vision of his own. Listening to the "In the South" overture that opens the disc, I'm met with a festive atmosphere. My interest was kept throughout the entire overture, although it's certainly the Vienna Phil that provides the greatest attraction. At least Gardiner doesn't inhibit the orchestra. I do wish he would be a bit more sentimental, but this is a brilliant overture, so that's forgivable.

The Introduction and Allegro for Strings is so rich and warm that it takes the breath away. But again, I don't sense that it's Gardiner making the show. I sense little artistic involvement from him, but the glory of the playing is beyond what we expect from even the LSO. I felt much the same way about "Sospiri".

I bought the disc for the Enigma Variations. Elgar incorporated a world of dark beauty into the work that causes me to love it with a passion. There's something inherently Brahmsian about the work. I bought this disc after coming home from a Carnegie Hall concert with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. Rattle's reading was incredibly touching, filled with retrospection yet always pulsating and alive. I hoped this disc would have some of the same magic I witnessed with Vienna's only rival. It does to an extent. Vienna's playing is almost as effortless as Berlin's and warmer. But my disappointment is in Gardiner. While he fosters bright, sprightly playing, he doesn't see all the melancholy and regret Elgar sprinkled on virtually every page. (Is this what reviewers are referring to when they say his Elgar is "radical"?) That was a major disappointment, even though I enjoyed the other-worldly playing. "Nimrod" is of course the emotional center of the work, but Gardiner runs through with no desperation. Rattle left me in tears with his poignant intensity in Carnegie Hall but there's no trace of that here. I'll continue to enjoy the performance, but it's due to Vienna. Why couldn't Vienna find a more inspired, committed conductor?

If you want to hear the Vienna Phil engaging in communicative, ravishing playing, here's your chance. Just don't be expecting anything from Gardiner.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Jan 2014 19:28:18 GMT
Why on earth should there be any 'desperation' in a performance of "Nimrod" ? Despite its latter-day associations with military memorial ceremonies, funerals, etc., this is in no way intended as a memorial or funeral piece. In a letter to Jaeger, Elgar explained that he had been seeking to express "the good loveable honest SOUL in the middle of you", and there is also a link to a long discussion they had had on the slow movements of Beethoven. Unfortunately subsequent extra-musical associations (as well perhaps as the context in which Elgar quotes "Nimrod" in "The Music Makers") have led to this kind of misinterpretation of what Elgar intended by the piece. (Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" has, I believe, suffered a similar kind of fate in the United States.)

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2014 21:21:57 GMT
Why is desperation connected to ceremonies and funerals? I wasn't trying to make any such connection. I want my Nimrod to be full of pulsating, heart-wrenching emotion, expressing the "the good loveable honest SOUL in the middle of you", as you say.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jan 2014 14:48:48 GMT
Thanks for your reply. I was simply trying to figure out where the desperation comes in, and the only possible connection I could think of concerns to the way in which Nimrod (in Britain at least) has come to be associated with mourning, remembrance of the dead, etc., and the way in which that in turn has arguably influenced the way in which the piece is interpreted on record and in the concert hall. If one treats Nimrod as a threnody (which some versions almost seem to be doing) , then I can see a connection. Otherwise I remain puzzled - but I'm probably quibbling too much over a particular word ! In any case, I'm not sure that Elgar was really looking for 'pulsating, heart-wrenching emotion' in this case. If that's what you want, fair enough - everyone to their own taste - but I'd say that the key characteristic of the piece is nobility (the piano score is marked 'nobilmente'), and I'm not sure that that is best conveyed via heart-wrenching emotion. As far as the present recording is concerned, I guess I feel it may be a little unfair to criticise a conductor for not conveying something that the composer may not have intended in the first place.
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