It is striking that two of the true classics in English orchestral music were composed within the short space of some fifteen years around the turn of the previous century. Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations have charmed as well as fascinated listeners since the first performance in 1899. In 14 remarkably diverse variations Elgar demonstrates his compositional mastery while creating miniature portraits of his closest friends, as well as of his wife and himself. By turns gentle, idyllic, tempestuous and boisterous, the pieces – which often run seamlessly into each other – nevertheless make up a coherent whole, like a group portrait taken during a country weekend. As for the enigma of the title, Elgar – who loved puzzles – maintained thatRead more another melody ‘went with’ the theme, and musicologists have searched for the answer ever since, without success.
In 1916 Gustav Holst completed another set of musical character sketches – his suite The Planets, in seven movements. These have little to do with astronomy and even less with the Roman deities whose names they carry. Holst was rather inspired by astrology and the suite actually concerns human character as influenced by the planets. The concept – like that of Elgar's variations – provides for a variety of moods and expressions, and in his score Holst took full advantage of these possibilities. To achieve this he made use of a large orchestra including much percussion, two harps, celesta, organ, two sets of timpani. He also included parts for certain unusual instruments such as bass flute, bass oboe and tenor tuba, and – in the final movement – a female chorus. Performing the programme in the warm acoustics of Bergen's Grieg Hall, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under Andrew Litton give it their all in this sonic spectacular.
Established collectors will probably have multiple performances of these works in their collection. They may not have them coupled together, however, and that is a bonus, especially for those lucky youngsters coming new to these works and for whom this disc is the perfect choice. Superbly recorded and with an excellent insert note by Philip Borg-Wheeler, it carries a most convincing performance of The Planets and a revelatory one of the ‘Enigma’ Variations.
The Planets, Op. 32/H 125by Gustav Holst Conductor:
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1914-1916; England
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Rousing PlanetsNovember 11, 2019By Archibald S. See All My Reviews"An excellent performance of this classic, with emotions associated with each planet being fully explored. The sound quality is also top notch, with plenty of brass and bass firepower, along with delicate treble effects. The dynamic range is wide (pppp to ffff), so keep your remote volume control handy. I listened in stereo made only; multi channel sound should be even more impressive. My only quibble is that the end of Neptune fades away rather quickly, so the effect of the women's voices is minimal."Report Abuse
Authentic Holst & Elgar from BergenAugust 6, 2019By Dean Frey See All My Reviews"The presentation of Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations in 1899 single-handedly destroyed a stereotype about Un-Musical Britain. It was a new masterwork of orchestral music for the 20th Century, and it was followed in 1916 by another: Gustav Holst's The Planets. Both are now staples of the orchestral repertoire around the world, though perhaps not as totally beloved as in Britain, with its flag-waving Proms audiences. It's instructive, then, to see how many great recorded performances come from outside of the UK: Montreal, Chicago, Berlin, Vienna, to name a few. Andrew Litton, who has made memorable recordings of the Holst from Dallas, and the Elgar from London, provides a musically flawless and authentic performance of both from Norway, with the very fine Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. So often used as demonstrations of high-end audio, these two works both sound very good, partly because of the BIS engineers, but let's face it, both composers wrote this music to sound good! I should mention that I listened to the stereo version, but I'm sure the surround-sound one is awesome."Report Abuse