ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Elgar - Enigma Variations


EDWARD ELGAR - Enigma Variations - In the South - Vladimir Ashkenazy (Conductor) - Sydney Symphony Orchestra - Hydrid SACD - 4526977050290 - Released: April 2011 - Exton EXCL00029

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) is one of the few British composers whose music suffers from too much Wagnerian and Brahmsian influence. A classicist with solid foundations, his music just doesn't seem to fit his period in time. Although he is considered a national treasure in his own country, most of his music fails to grab the attention of the non-British public. If it wasn't for his Cello Concerto, made famous by the wonderful recording by Jacqueline du Pré, or the Variations on an Original Theme "Enigma", Op. 36, his name might have been doomed to fade within the pages of musical history books.

The Enigma Variations is without a doubt, a staple at the English dinner table. It's one of those magic recipes loaded with all the best ingredients, some of them secret, culled from its own backyard. But add impressive craftmanship and originality to the mix, and it has become a favorite dish served regularly around the world. In fact the "Nimrod" variation at the centre of the work, with its stoic melancholy and broad harmonic intervals, has come to represent English music at its best. Some of the lighter segments of the work disclose an unbuttoned Elgar, while the final few minutes prove that he could joust with the best of them. The concert overture In the South (Alassio) presents a different but equally impressive side of this composer. It is suddenly much more German in nature, with in fact, an impressive opening few minutes full of Richard Strauss orchestral and harmonic gestures.

The people at Exton, a Japanese audiophile label, have once again produced an impressive recording with plenty of headroom. The imaging is so natural that you can almost visualize the space between the instruments, but yet the orchestral sound is rich and full of impact. The strings shimmer in the high notes, and the bass drums, rather than being heard, are felt like distant thunder. Highly recommended!

Jean-Yves Duperron - July 2011