Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36In the South (Alassio) – Concert Overture, Op.50
Serenade for Strings, Op.20
Sir Andrew Davis
Enigma Variations recorded 18 April 2007 in Fairfield Halls, Croydon; In the South and Serenade recorded 18 April 2007 in Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (Southbank Centre)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2009
CD No: SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD168
Duration: 67 minutes
Andrew Davis has long been a devoted conductor of Elgar’s music and his long experience in it, as well as his love for it, shines through here on this release from Signum. If the layout of the three works is unsatisfactory – Enigma comes first (when it should be last) and is followed by In the South (which means two heavyweight pieces are needlessly juxtaposed) and, finally, the Serenade, which would have been ideal as the central item – then one can pick and choose and re-programme.
In the South is given an ebullient outing, expansive and detailed, energised yet poised, and pictorial, not least in the twilight and balmy ‘Canto popolare’ section (a shame the viola and horn soloists are not named); all part of a vivid and appreciative performance. Serenade for Strings (too many in number here, maybe!) also enjoys such understanding, flowing ideally and expressing itself from within, not least in the heartfelt slow movement. The recordings of both works, while perfectly fine, suggest the Queen Elizabeth Hall as being more spacious acoustically that it seems in reality.
Whereas Fairfield sounds more like itself in situ, an excellent recording venue. Andrew Davis and the Philharmonia Orchestra chart their way through this imperishable masterpiece with surety and conviction; it’s a glowing and well-characterised performance full of innate observations – ‘Nimrod’ is especially moving – and leading to an emotionally clouting account of the closing bars, given con amore, at which point Davis expands the music – supported by the ad lib organ – to glorious effect.
There are numerous notable recordings of these popular pieces; this impressive release joins them.