Falstaff Symphonic Study in C minor, Op.68
Romance for bassoon and orchestra, Op.62
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Graham Salvage (bassoon)
Heinrich Schiff (cello)
Andrew Shore (baritone)
Falstaff and Romance recorded July 2003 in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; Cello Concerto and Smoking Cantata recorded October 2003 in BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
CD No: HALLÉ CD HLL 7505 Duration: 70 minutes Reviewed: July 2004
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
The good news is that faults encountered on the first pressing of this CD (an assurance of a re-press having delayed this review) and which occurred after producer Andrew Keener had signed-off a fault-free master are now corrected. If youve noticed a click on the majority of Falstaffs cueing points and ambient fade-out both in that work and in the Cello Concerto, then a replacement copy free of these blemishes can be arranged (please see below). Interestingly a few clicks remain on this second pressing just before the starts of the Romance, the concerto (and also its Adagio), and the cantata but only on selected machines! Having tried this re-pressed CD on three players, one reproduces the afore-mentioned clicks, the other two relay only perfection. Life's too short to worry about it!
In many ways Mark Elders account of Falstaff is exceptional. His is an interpretation of vivid incident and clarity of detail, punctiliously prepared. However, it is also a little garish, maybe something that the admirably tangible and vivid recording emphasises. Elders is a tougher approach to this music, not unwelcome, but which surprisingly lacks for warmth and wistful expression. Elder has the pertinent advantage of antiphonal violins (but so too does Boult) and over its 35-minute course Elders Falstaff seems too consistently brilliant, too bustling, and the Hallés playing, while first class, is over-drilled and lacking inwardness. I suspect that Elder is simply too calculating of effects and rather subsumes the fantasy and humanity that this music needs. As a study in orchestral virtuosity, and superb scoring, it is excellent, but the forceful, strident and clinical aspects arent always appropriate. However, relative disappointment can be measured against high expectancy.
The touching Romance for bassoon is eloquently turned by Graham Salvage and sensitively accompanied. The Smoking Cantata, all 40 seconds of it, is a jape (Michael Kennedy), Elgar setting a friends words about not smoking. Its rather fun and begins and ends with a dramatic chord that Verdi would have been proud of. Andrew Shore is suitably declamatory.
Elgars Cello Concerto has had more than its fair share of mawkish performances. Im inclined to say that the Starker/Slatkin RCA recording is close to my ideal, and Heinrich Schiff too is an exemplar of how to distil emotion from this piece without going overboard. He finds the numbed stoicism that is essential to Elgars spirit, and Elder and his orchestra are alive to the works subtle poignancy; theres a convincing ebb and flow throughout. Heartfelt shading and an involving volubility set the seal on an innate view of this much-put-upon music. The balance between cello and orchestra is finely judged, but the spacious acoustic isnt the most ingratiating in terms of tone.
A mixed release, then, but Falstaffs vibrancy is often thrilling, and Schiffs view of the concerto is one to return to. Some Hallé CD links below.
For replacement copies of this CD please call Sanctuary Classics Customer Services on 020 7300 1888 or e-mail [email protected]