Royal PO's performance is outstanding in many ways. Menuhin has deep understanding of Elgar's music and its innermost yearning. Every movement displays his genuine affinity with the inspiration and characterisation of the music. Tempi are perfectly judged throughout, the famous 9th variation Nimrod, for example, is neither too fast nor too slow, achieving maximum grandeur and dramatic effect without losing forward momentum. The fast variations are bursting with energy and verve, the slow variations are played with amazing subtlely and heart warming intimacy. The additional organ in the last variation amplifies the scale of the monumental finale.
Great Britain’s famous Proms concerts usually end with a program that is British to the core, featuring many favorites that English audiences expect in the same way that Viennese audiences expect their Radetzky March on New Year’s. Let’s make this clear, then, from the start. This is not an actual Proms performance but a studio recording of music that is usually heard at that event. It is English to the core; about four tracks in, you’ll feel like you should be saluting as the Queen passes by.
Elgar's two symphonies are good example of interpretations of music being stuck thanks to the strange British conservatism. If you listen to 10 recordings of these symphonies by 10 British conductors, they all sound more or less same in terms of interpretation: controlled, noble, beautiful Elgarian rubato and so on.
Enigma Variations is the work that secured Elgars reputation as a composer of international significance. The 14 variations are all character portraits of friends, including his wife and the composer himself, the most famous being the ninth, the achingly nostalgic Nimrod. The Cello Concerto is Elgars last substantial work and has become not only one of his best loved, but also one of the most popular concertos ever written for the instrument.
A trim, at times, almost balletic Falstaff. If that seems a ludicrous contradiction, I should explain that it refers to Dutoit's spirited interpretation of the work, not the central character, though Falstaff himself has shed a few pounds in the process but is no less loveable. Indeed, Dutoit's swift tempo for the second section (at the Boar's Head) has the theme for Falstaff's 'cheerful look and pleasing eye' sounding less like Tovey's understandable misunderstanding of it as ''blown up like a bladder with sighing and grief''. The trimming down process is abetted by the Montreal sound, with lean, agile strings and incisive brass (the horns are magnificent). Some may feel a lack of warmth in the characterization. I certainly felt that the first presentation of Prince Harry's theme (0'40'') could have done with a richer string sonority. Doubtless, too, there will be collectors who, at moments, miss the generous humanity of Barbirolli, or the Straussian brilliance of Solti. And although Mackerras is wonderful in the dream interludes and Falstaff's death, the start of his fourth section, with Falstaff's rush to London only to be rejected by the new King, is short on teeming excitement and anticipation. (Gramophone)
There are basically two ways in which conductors may approach the Enigma Variations. Either they can take the music at its face value, treating the set of variations as a symphonically developed whole; or they can treat the work as a series of miniature character sketches of Elgar’s “friends pictured within”, highlighting the personalities of the miscellaneous collection of individuals involved. William Boughton in this reading opts for the second option, and the result bubbles with life.