This latest release in the beautifully recorded Hallé Orchestra series is dedicated to some major works by Elgar together with a couple of incidental but interesting rarities. Mark Elder is a conductor of stature and he brings a pensive and thoughtful insight into 'Falstaff' and the Cello Concerto which also has Heinrich Schiff on top form.
This is surely one of the finest 'Falstaff's' that we have had in recent years. Elder paces the work with an uncanny sense of its key points and momentum, confirming the difficulty that this work is permeated with. Elgar's own recording (EMI) is still the benchmark but Barbirolli, Boult and the equally excellent Lloyd Jones (Naxos) have all given memorable accounts of this rather enigmatic composition. Elder is now up there with these exalted conductors.
I still retain a soft spot for the great recording of the Cello Concerto with Beatrice Harrison and the composer, almost eighty years later this is still the standard by which others are judged. Schiff is equally brilliant in the lyrical and virtuosos passages but he must yield to the sense of mystery and nostalgia that Harrison creates. However the recording is definitely one of the best available at the moment especially in the glorious Finale.
The exquisite rarity that concludes the disc is a delightful one minute 'Smoking Cantata' which is nothing but a curious musical joke. I also enjoyed the rarely heard Romance for Bassoon which is one of those beautifully pensive Elgar works with Graham Salvage proving a persuasive interpreter. This disc is highly recommended to those building an Elgar collection but is also very desirable for the seasoned Elgarian.
Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech