Elgar: Enigma Variations, In The South, Introduction & Allegro For Strings

Release Date: 10/13/2009
Label: Alto
Catalog Number: MOB001554
Number of Discs: 1

Physical Format:

In Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews

ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme, “Enigma.” 1 In the South, “Alassio.” 2 Introduction and Allegro 3 Eduardo Mata, cond; 1 Yehudi Menuhin, cond; 2 Barry Wordsworth, cond; 3 London SO; 1 Royal PO 2,3 ALTO 1055 (70:49)

This reissue contains three familiar Elgar recordings. Mata’s “Enigma” Variations dates from 1987. They were originally issued by Vox along with an excellent performance of Dvo?ák’s Seventh Symphony. The two Royal Philharmonic selections were engineered by Dick Lewzey at CTS Studios in 1994. They were released on Tring in the U.K. and on Intersound in the U.S. In the South originally was coupled with an “Enigma” Variations led by Menuhin that was just as fine as Mata’s. All three selections have been excellently remastered by Paul Arden-Taylor. The Mata in particular has gained greatly in bloom and depth.

If a Mexican conductor seems an unlikely choice for Elgar, it’s worth remembering that Mata recorded a fine, if poorly engineered, version of Holst’s The Planets in Dallas. I heard Mata at Mostly Mozart in the 1970s. I remember him as a meticulous musician. He had a valuable association with the LSO, recording with them for Vox and RCA. He was not the first foreign conductor to lead the “Enigma” Variations on recordings with the orchestra. Pierre Monteux had done so, famously, and I believe Eugen Jochum did as well. For Mata, no orchestra could have displayed a more detailed knowledge of the work. The opening theme is stated lovingly, with an attention to the harmony that was typical of Toscanini’s rendition. Elgar’s wife Alice then appears in playing that is beautifully turned. Matthew Arnold’s son Richard is portrayed in a way that resembles his father, with dramatic, somber hues alternating with a chirpy laugh from the oboe (is it Anthony Camden?). “Nimrod” is not taken at the snail’s pace that is fashionable in some circles nowadays. The strings’ quiet playing at the start is serene and elegant. The variations’ rhetoric is built up into an unaffected portrayal of eloquence. “G. R. S.”’s bulldog Dan makes a terrific racket. The rich string tone for the cellist, “B. G. N.,” shows off one of the best attributes of an English orchestra. The excellent clarinet solo in the Romanza makes me wonder if Jack Brymer was still the principal. The composer’s self-portrait in the Finale is brilliant and extroverted, but also majestic and noble at Mata’s steady, unhurried pace. In its way, the Finale encompasses as vast a portrait of its composer as all of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben does. The optional organ part is not included here.

Yehudi Menuhin made a number of fine recordings of Elgar as a conductor, including both symphonies with the RPO. His performance of In the South is virile and exciting, with especially brilliant work from the brass. Menuhin successfully evokes the massive solemnity of the Roman ruins. Details here pop up in the winds that other conductors ignore. One wonders if Respighi knew this music when he composed The Pines of Rome. The shepherd’s tune is given the shadings of a moonlit night. The buildup to the conclusion takes its time, creating a sense of architectural splendor. It’s a unique interpretation. If you are interested in other CDs that couple the “Enigma” Variations with In the South , there is an excellent CD on Naxos with George Hurst and the Bournemouth Symphony.

Barry Wordsworth is one of my favorite conductors. Whether you hear his 1988 recordings of Mozart and Haydn for Naxos, his Beethoven with the RPO, or his Delius with the LSO, he clearly is one of our most underrated maestros. His performance of the Introduction and Allegro is in the same league as the classic versions by Barbirolli and Münch, but with better sound. The solo work is stylish and touching. The string ensemble has a traditionally euphonious English tone, with thrilling tuttis. Wordsworth’s direction is patient, but with no lack of vitality. The drama of the piece builds up steadily, almost effortlessly. This is a great recording. It rounds out a most appealing Elgar collection, which also includes excellent, revealing program notes. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann
Works on This Recording
1. In the South, Op. 50 "Alassio" by Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor: Yehudi Menuhin
Orchestra/Ensemble: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1903-1904 ; England
2. Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra, Op. 47 by Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor: Barry Wordsworth
Orchestra/Ensemble: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1904-1905 ; England
3. Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 "Enigma" by Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor: Eduardo Mata
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1898-1899 ; England
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