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Elgar: Falstaff, Etc / Davis, BBC Symphony Orchestra

Elgar / Sheen / Bbc Sym Orch / Davis
Release Date: 07/04/2005 
Label:  Apex   Catalog #: 4622002  
Composer:  Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Graham Sheen
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

How odd that, not unlike Boult’s marvellous 1950 account (the last version of Falstaff to have come my way), this newcomer takes a little time to get into its stride. Don’t fret, though: it isn’t long before Andrew Davis’s formidable Elgarian instincts make themselves evident. One only has to sample his shaping of the imploring theme that appears shortly into the first Boar’s Head Tavern episode (fig. 19 in the Novello study score, or track 3 on Teldec’s helpful presentation), the tingling expectancy before the Gadshill double-ambush (track 5), or the thrilling grit and muscular purpose of those con fuoco martellato strings from fig. 44 (0'09'' into track 7) in the struggle which ensues. Comparative listening with Rattle’s stunningly Read more prepared but (to my ears) curiously pristine 1993 version both here and in the infinitely moving epilogue is definitely to Davis’s advantage, I would say: that final lump-in-the-throat appearance of Hal’s theme at fig. 144 (track 29, from 1'16'') brings with it a poignancy not found on the Birmingham disc. Listen out, too, for the strings’ gentle, unutterably wistful ‘stab’ three bars after fig. 146 (or 2'26''): a moment cherishable beyond words.

Aided by glowing, indeed demonstration-worthy sound quality, Davis draws a meticulously observant, warm-hearted response from his BBC band. Not only does his interpretation evince a compelling long-term rigour, an unerring feel for the grand scheme of Elgar’s masterpiece (I was frequently reminded of Handley’s similarly cogent CfP account with the LPO, 6/93 – nla), it is also consistently involving in its spontaneity, winning depth of characterization and (most crucially) tender vulnerability. Only once do I feel Davis slightly miscalculates: even after repeated hearings, his dangerous broadening for Elgar’s Grandioso marking at fig. 127 (track 24) still strikes me as too much of a good thing. Otherwise, unalloyed pleasure is guaranteed. For my money, Davis’s reading is one to set beside both the composer’s own and Barbirolli’s at (or very near) the top of the pile.

Some, I fancy, will think Davis’s Froissart too loose-limbed a conception. However, what it may marginally lack in glinting swagger, is more than compensated for by Davis’s palpable affection for Elgar’s at times touchingly naive inspiration as well as his meltingly lovely handling (both times round) of the exquisite secondary material: the way, for instance, he leads us into the Poco meno mosso clarinet solo at fig. 1 (try from 4'00'') is sheer magic (Davis has an exceptional gift for communicating the introspective hush so characteristic of this composer). Teldec also give us a hauntingly atmospheric Grania and Diarmid diptych (Davis’s Funeral March is a more flowing, less imposingly sombre creature than Rattle’s), while the BBC SO’s principal bassoon, Graham Sheen (such an engaging personality in the main work), makes a similarly fresh-faced showing in the little-heard Op. 62 Romance. Altogether a highly desirable Elgar collection.

-- Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone [8/1998]
reviewing the original release of this title, Teldec 98436
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Works on This Recording

1.
Falstaff, Op. 68 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Graham Sheen (Bassoon)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1913; England 
Date of Recording: 03/1995 
2.
Grania and Diarmid, Op. 42: Funeral March by Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901; England 
Date of Recording: 03/1995 
3.
Romance for Bassoon and Orchestra, Op. 62 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Graham Sheen (Bassoon)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1909; England 
Date of Recording: 03/1995 
4.
Froissart Overture, Op. 19 by Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1890; England 
Date of Recording: 03/1995 

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