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 
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian) 
Overture The Hebrides (Fingals Cave), Op.26  *
Albert Sammons (violin)
Sir Hamilton Harty
Sir Malcolm Sargent *
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2004
CD No: HALLÉ TRADITION CDHLT 8001 (Elgar)
Duration: 50 minutes (Elgar)
The Hallé Orchestra’s CD initiative takes a welcome historical turn with these two releases mostly featuring Sir Hamilton Harty, the Hallé’s 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 Sammons’s 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.
It’s 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 conductor’s muscular exuberance and the discipline of the playing. Yet, between 1’58”-2’11” in the first movement one registers some sickly-sounding bass frequencies; this indicates too much no-noising. Interpretatively, at 3’00”, 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 second’s 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.
It’s 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. Fingal’s Cave is similarly bogged at times by light/dark aural patches, and Sargent’s 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. Harty’s 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 technology’s 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 Enigma’s 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; it’s all a bit punchy and theatrically applied, and there’s some noticeable wow. Harty’s Apostles excerpt (commercial) offers something altogether deeper and considered. Leslie Heward’s charming account of Salut d’amour closes the CD.
Two artistically successful releases, then, that hopefully will cue more. With the exception of Harty’s 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!