on 24 July 2012
We've all heard many recordings of this repertoire, but this set by Andrew Davis and the BBC SO stands comparison with the best. They really understand the music and perform it with spirit and conviction. The generous CD brings together more than 74 minutes of Elgar favourites and the recording quality is excellent. This would be a good buy at any price, but it's tremendous value on the budget Apex label.
on 13 October 2015
First of all, the sound on this disc is first-rate. I bought it because I had been impressed by both the sound AND the performance on Andrew Davis's disc of the Vaughan Williams Sixth, and the sound certainly lived up to my expectations. Listen to the Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Op. 47 -- to me, the highlight of this disc. The way the recording catches the textures of the whole range of strings, from high to low, from loud to soft, just couldn't be better. The balance of the string quartet in relation to the concertante orchestral sections is just right, and the playing by all concerned, to my ears, is beautiful. The earlier Serenade for String Orchestra is also beautifully done, though it's a simpler and less engaging piece. I have to confess a bias, however -- even well-played, Elgar never gets my pulses racing, much as I appreciate the skill of the orchestration and harmony. I came to this recording having been listening to a lot of Schumann and Dvorak, and these two can get you out of your chair, so to speak. And it's not just a matter of a degree of reticence in the climaxes -- compared with Tchaikovsky, for example, or even Vaughan Williams. Elgar seems to be unwilling or unable to commit himself wholeheartedly to melody. No sooner does a promising motif present itself than it's worked on or worked over before it has a chance to make an emotional impact. Is this a fear of vulgarity on Elgar's part -- his textures can be very refined -- or does he just have a different conception of symphonic development from Dvorak or Vaughan Williams? I'm a very unsophisticated listener -- I like music that hews close to bodily sensation -- the march, the dance, the song -- and yet I suspect that, though I like Vaughan Williams better, Elgar is perhaps the greater composer. It's a bit like preferring to Dickens to Henry James, even as you know that James is masterly in a way that Dickens can't be (and isn't interested in being).
Anyway . . . enough about me. I enjoyed this disc, with the reservations noted above. It opens with a spirited Cockaigne Overture, and ends with the "Enigma" Variations. My overall impression of the Enigma performance is, again of refinement, and the sound is, again, beautiful. I've heard tauter accounts, though. Still, much to appreciate here.