George Weldon Conducts Edward Elgar

0 of 5 stars

In the South (Alassio) – Concert Overture, Op.50
Sea Pictures, Op.37
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36

Gladys Ripley (contralto) [Sea Pictures]

London Symphony Orchestra [In the South; Sea Pictures]
Philharmonia Orchestra
George Weldon

In the South & Sea Pictures recorded in 1954 in Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London; Enigma Variations in 1953 in Kingsway Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2008
Duration: 78 minutes



Chichester-born George Weldon (1908-1963) – a lover of fast cars and, it seems, an habitual cigarette-smoker, as well as one-time Principal Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – made more recordings that we might think (including “82 titles with Walter Legge’s Philharmonia”). But, then, Weldon is something of a forgotten figure – so this Somm release is timely to help restore an interest in him.

Elgar was one of Weldon’s favourite composers. In the South is splendidly brought off – with power, expanse and sensitivity as well as thought-through and dovetailing tempo-relationships. The London Symphony Orchestra plays excellently for him – one senses a strong maestro at the helm really putting his authority on the music without dominating it. A man of the theatre – he was often to be found in the pit conducting for ballet performances (Classics for Pleasure has Weldon’s impressive, if abridged, Philharmonia Orchestra version of The Sleeping Beauty in its catalogue) – Weldon invests much drama into In the South, a beautifully considered performance that holds its own very persuasively and is agreeably pacific in the ‘canto popolare’ section, viola and horn solos well taken.

Gladys Ripley (also short-lived, 1908-55) brings a true contralto depth and resonance to “Sea Pictures”. If she is a little plummy and wavery in timbre and somewhat ‘upper-class’ in diction – all frightfully well enunciated, but with a tendency to break the melodic line up – then she also brings intensity to the texts. It is though Weldon and the LSO that offers the greater variegation, romance and sense of imagery, Ripley’s somewhat-solemn recitation not quite emulating what is happening behind her. It is though difficult to hear these settings without having the classic Janet Baker/John Barbirolli version running as a concurrent soundtrack in one’s mind; how poignant that partnership make ‘Where Corals Lie’, which Ripley and Weldon fragment with ill-timed fluctuations of pace.

George Weldon (who died in Cape Town) requested that ‘Nimrod’ from Enigma Variations should be played at his memorial service. Heard in the context of Weldon’s complete performance of this inexhaustible masterpiece, it is very much integrated into the whole while being spaciously eloquent on its own terms. Weldon’s account, played with conviction, is not exaggerated in any way but leaves no doubt as to Weldon’s love and appreciation of Elgar’s achievement. If Weldon has little ‘new’ to impart, his concentration on the music’s behalf (mirrored by the Philharmonia Orchestra) makes for an often-notable version of this imperishable creation.

Brian B. Culverhouse (who produced some of Weldon’s recordings, including In the South and Sea Pictures, Walter Legge taking the credit for Enigma) has done an excellent job in re-mastering the original mono tapes to reveal open, detailed and dynamic sound (the organ well captured in Enigma’s closing peroration). Culverhouse remembers Weldon as a “remarkable conductor and a fine friend”. Certainly I’m left hoping that Somm will issue more of Weldon’s recordings.

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