Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36 [recorded 1930]
Dream Children, Op.43 
The Dream of Gerontius Jesu! by that shuddering dread Take me away  *
The Apostles By the wayside  #
Salut damour, Op.12  **
* Heddle Nash (tenor) & Keith Falkner (baritone); Hallé Choir
# Dora Labbette (soprano), Hubert Eisdell (tenor), Dennis Noble (baritone), Robert Easton & Harold Williams (basses)
Sir Hamilton Harty
Sir Malcolm Sargent *
Leslie Heward **
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26  Mendelssohn
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian) 
Overture The Hebrides (Fingals Cave), Op.26  *
Albert Sammons (violin)
Sir Hamilton Harty
Sir Malcolm Sargent *
CD No: HALLÉ TRADITION CDHLT 8001 (Elgar) CDHLT 8002 Duration: 50 minutes (Elgar) 54 minutes Reviewed: May 2004
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
The Hallé Orchestras CD initiative takes a welcome historical turn with these two releases mostly featuring Sir Hamilton Harty, the Hallés Irish-born principal conductor from 1920-33. These two issues (programmed in the order above) span recordings made between 1925 and 1942. If the playing-time seems short-measure, do please note that the price is close to budget.
The 1925 Bruch, over some surface noise, opens in ghostly fashion, the foreign means of bolstering the bass line in order to have it captured by the relatively primitive recording process; for this reason, there are a few other examples of changes of scoring. This acoustic recording of the Bruch faithfully captures Albert Sammonss expressive, sweet-toned and easeful playing, which is often a joy (albeit he's not always certain in matters of intonation). This lyrical, affectionate and flexible rendition, with stylistic traits of the period (e.g. portamento), is shared to us through a recording that is notable for a good balance between soloist and orchestra, the latter quite full in tuttis if rather weedy in the strings.
Its a good transfer too, the sound given a chance to shine; although that is not always the case elsewhere in these releases. And surely the better ordering for this CD would have been that of the traditional overture, concerto, symphony design, rather than being in chronological order.
Harty leads a vital, bustling Italian, most enjoyable, one to return to for the conductors muscular exuberance and the discipline of the playing. Yet, between 158-211 in the first movement one registers some sickly-sounding bass frequencies; this indicates too much no-noising. Interpretatively, at 300, a zing from the violins raises a smile but we veer, once more, into sullen textures as the re-mastering bites too deeply to contaminate the quieter, lower frequencies. Is the attacca between the first two movements as recorded, Harty moving into the Andante con moto without even a seconds breath, or is it a cock-up in the transfer? Actually it sounds musically convincing, so may replicate the original 78s. Less-close segues inform the remaining movements, all done with an animation that bridges 70-plus years very easily. The Con moto moderato third movement has a few bars trimmed, presumably to fit one 78 side.
Its the inconsistent re-mastered sound given us here that is the bugbear, though that pivotal area of dynamic and register where the reproduction lapses from good to tainted. Fingals Cave is similarly bogged at times by light/dark aural patches, and Sargents view of the Scottish overture points up contrasts between himself and Harty where Harty digs in and encapsulates a grand design, Sargent is rather urbane and liable to spot a lay-by or two.
The Elgar CD is again an exercise in chronology (more or less); otherwise surely a different and more satisfying order would have resulted the short pieces first, then the sacred, then Enigma. Hartys of the latter is a robust, intense, sometimes brusque account that once more reports the pre-war Hallé as a responsive and disciplined ensemble, a flying account of Troyte (Variation 7) being a prime example. Once more the transfer intercedes Variation 5 (track 6) reveals more lapses between true and corrupt timbres, so too the opening of Nimrod. Maybe the transfer engineer, Simon Haram on this occasion, was too concerned with setting the technologys parameters?
Yet these transfers are not deserving of too much lambasting for there are far worse no-noised horrors out there; equally there are many pristine examples that seem more reliant on sensitive and attuned ears. In fairness, when the musical frequencies are right for the re-mastering processes (albeit a reversal of priority) then the sound can be excellent the tumult of Enigmas final bars, a free-flowing apotheosis under Harty, brings considerable sonic impact.
The two Gerontius snippets from Sargent (a BBC relay) fail to generate the required spirituality; its all a bit punchy and theatrically applied, and theres some noticeable wow. Hartys Apostles excerpt (commercial) offers something altogether deeper and considered. Leslie Hewards charming account of Salut damour closes the CD.
Two artistically successful releases, then, that hopefully will cue more. With the exception of Hartys Enigma, these are all first CD releases, worthy ones too. A little more surface noise and truer timbres across the frequency board will be welcome next time. Please!