CD: Elgar: Symphonies 1 & 2; Violin & Cello Concertos; Falstaff; Enigma Variations; etc

(LPO, five CDs)

As this hugely enjoyable anniversary collection demonstrates, the London Philharmonic has been associated with Elgar's music since it was founded by Thomas Beecham in 1932. Some of its earliest ventures into a recording studio were with Elgar himself, and this set, which has been thoughtfully assembled from the archives of several labels as well as the orchestra's own, includes several pieces conducted by the composer at sessions in London's Kingsway Hall in 1933 - the Overture Froissart with just the right combination of swagger and nobility, the Serenade for Strings, sweetly sentimental, the Elegy for string orchestra, and one of the Three Characteristic Pieces Op 10. There's another prewar performance, too - the Coronation March, conducted by Landon Ronald in 1935 - but the rest of the material dates from the 1950s onwards, and includes some of the most important Elgar recordings ever made.

Many of those are conducted by Adrian Boult, who was the LPO's principal conductor from 1950-56, and remained closely associated with the orchestra until his death in 1983. Boult's 1956 account of Falstaff is here - it's arguably the finest ever recorded, distinctly more vivid than his later stereo version - as well as the version of the Violin Concerto made two years earlier, with Alfredo Campoli. It's by no means one of the best-known accounts of the concerto on disc, but it wears extremely well, just as Paul Tortelier's fine account of the Cello Concerto from 1972, again with Boult, has been completely overshadowed by Jacqueline du Pré's version with Barbirolli, yet remains one of the finest memorials to a great cellist.

Some of Boult's greatest achievements with the LPO in Elgar from the 1960s and 1970s aren't included here either, most notably the two versions of each of the symphonies, made for Lyrita and EMI respectively. But Boult's account of the little-known ballet score The Sanguine Fan is included, as well as a wonderfully spacious performance of the Introduction and Allegro for Strings. For many of the most popular of Elgar's orchestral works, the set uses performances conducted by Georg Solti (the First Symphony and the overtures In the South and Cockaigne), Charles Mackerras (Enigma Variations), and, most interestingly, Vernon Handley. His superbly paced version of the Second Symphony comes from an 1981 EMI disc, while the Sea Pictures (the only vocal work included), with Janet Baker as the peerless soloist, was taken from a Royal Festival Hall concert to mark the 50th anniversary of Elgar's death in 1984 - which bizarrely was recorded by Capital Radio. That's a real find, which every Elgarian will want to hear. But the whole set is of exceptional interest, even if it can only scratch the surface of what the LPO has done for Elgar over 75 years.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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