The composer of Land of Hope and Glory is often regarded as the quintessential English gentleman, but Edward Elgar's image of hearty nobility was deliberately contrived. In reality, he was awkward, nervous, self-pitying and often rude, while his marriage to his devoted wife Alice was complicated by romantic entanglements which fired his creative energy. In this revelatory portrait, John Bridcut explores the secret conflicts in Elgar's nature which produced some of Britain's greatest music.
Barbirolli made later recordings of all the works on this CD and these have become cornerstones of the catalogue. These are earlier recordings that he did with his own orchestra, the Halle, in the 1950s. To start with, the recording quality is pretty amazing. They were recorded on 35mm film tape rather than half inch recording tape by the Mercury team and have astonishing immediacy and amazingly lifelike. Barbirolli uses an organ in the finale of the Enigma Variations. The recording is a little bass heavy but this is a small caveat. For people who consider Barbirolli to be a bit indulgent as a conductor, these recordings may come as a surprise. The performances are very direct and nicely flowing. They therefore complement rather than compete with the later recordings. Of course, Barbirolli's later recording of the Cello Concerto with Jacqueline du Pre is a very famous and special rendition of the work. However, it is not without its detractors. Andre Navarra, by contrast, plays with golden tone. He plays gorgeously. Highly recommended.
This is a re-issue, in an improved version, of Christopher Nupens best-selling DVD previously released through Opus Arte it now appears on the Christopher Nupen Films label for the first time. As usual with Christopher Nupen DVDs, this one contains two films: the famous portrait film of Jacqueline du Prй which includes the complete Elgar cello Concerto in a performance which has become legendary and a performance film, The Ghost (Beethovens Trio Op. 70 No. 1) with Daniel Barenboim and Pinchas Zukerman; described by the French opera and film director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle as the most successful translation of musical performance onto the screen that he had ever seen. And, also as usual with Christopher Nupen films, these are lit, shot and edited in the style of cinema film, not television. The results are visually impressive and totally unlike what usually appears on television screens an important, defining characteristic of this DVD.
Elgar’s Violin Concerto has a certain mystique about it independent of the knee-jerk obeisance it has received in the British press. It probably is the longest and most difficult of all Romantic violin concertos, requiring not just great technical facility but great concentration from the soloist and a real partnership of equals with the orchestra. And like all of Elgar’s large orchestral works, it is extremely episodic in construction and liable to fall apart if not handled with a compelling sense of the long line. In reviewing the score while listening to this excellent performance, I was struck by just how fussy Elgar’s indications often are: the constant accelerandos and ritards, and the minute (and impractical) dynamic indications that ask more questions than they sometimes answer. No version, least of all the composer’s own, even attempts to realize them all: it would be impossible without italicizing and sectionalizing the work to death.
Why has one piece of music here, the Elgar Cello Concerto played by Jacqueline DuPre become so legendary? Of course it is the music itself. It has an overpowerful haunting deeply hypnotic feeling. Elgar wrote it after his recovery from a serious illness towards the end of the First War, and his thoughts were certainly on the suffering of life, and the inevitability of death. Du Pre brings to the piece not only her great mastery as cellist, but some deeper element of feeling. There is in the playing a sense of romantic abandoment of wild disturbance, and of intense and even ferious concentration.