As one can see this is a treasure trove of ‘forgotten’ recordings that will interest and intrigue dedicated Elgar enthusiasts. Unsurprisingly it is the inspiration of devoted, long-standing leading lights in The Elgar Society. Not the least of these is Jerrold Northrop Moore author of the most comprehensive Elgar biography and many other writings on the composer. In this CD’s booklet he relates with great charm how he met Elgar’s niece, May Grafton, and persuaded her to record Elgar’s Sonatina written for her when she was eight years old and learning to play the piano. Jerry’s recording has never previously been published. May herself introduces her performance telling us that she is playing Elgar’s original version, not the publishedRead more one.
The album commences with another previously unpublished recording of Elegy for String Orchestra made in April 1933 and regarded, justifiably, by the booklet note’s author, John Knowles, as ‘much more alive [with] a greater sense of ebb and flow’ than the published LPO recording.
The works performed by Albert Sammons, of Salut d’amour and, more importantly, the Violin Concerto are of strong interest. Here is the earlier 1916 Columbia recording of the latter with Henry Wood conducting. Of necessity, for that period, it was an abridged version to fit four 12” sides yet the consummate artistry of Sammons is very evident. Elgar said of Sammons, ‘Nobody plays my concerto like Albert, he gets to the heart of it.’ This was the concerto’s first recording and its appearance on Columbia stung HMV so much that they hurried out a rival version, again abridged, with Marie Hall conducted by Elgar. Interestingly, the booklet includes comparative details of the cuts for both recordings.
Another violinist Alfredo Campoli, who recorded the Violin Concerto with Adrian Boult, is represented here with two short items, both exquisitely performed in a sentimental old style: Serenade in which Campoli is joined by his Salon Orchestra, and La Capricieuse with Harold Pedlar (piano).
Special mention must be made of two orchestral inclusions conducted by Landon Ronald. He is first heard conducting a dignified, grandiloquent reading of Elgar’s Coronation March (for George V in 1911). Then Ronald conducts Edward German’s Coronation March & Hymn - again for King George’s 1911 coronation. It is known that Elgar had a high regard for Edward German (unlike for most other British composers of the time) and German’s coronation composition is inspired and affecting. Both of these Landon Ronald recordings were made in 1935 a year or so after Elgar died.
Also dating from 1911 is a venerable recording by The Imperial Bandsmen (a.k.a. the Black Diamonds band) of the opening section of Elgar’s Coronation Ode written for Edward VII’s 1901 coronation. It is incredible to think that this magnificent, rousing work had to wait 66 more years for a complete recording to mark the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
The vocal music inclusions are interesting. The earliest from way back in 1912 are of the Sheffield and Leeds United Choirs under Henry Coward singing ‘The Dance’ and ‘Lullaby’ from Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands. The sound is a bit wobbly but one can discern why Elgar was so impressed with this choir. One of the stand-out items in this collection is the fine singing – authoritative, nuanced, sensitive to text and line of Fred Taylor in the two ’Fringes of the Fleet songs. Notable, too, is Fredric Austin’s rendering of Elgar’s The Pipes of Pan and an intriguing inclusion is Dutch contralto, Maartje Offers singing ‘Where Corals Lie’ from Sea Pictures.
Special mention must be made of the excellent transfers and restorations by Lani Spahr.