LSO0572 (4 disk set)

Disc 1: Symphony no 1, Pomp and Circumstance Marches, 2,3,5 
Colin Davis, Barry Tuckwell conductors

Disc 2: Symphony no 2, Coronation March, Imperial March 
Pomp and Circumstance March No 1
Colin Davis, Barry Tuckwell conductors

Disc 3: Symphony no 3 (Anthony Payne version), Pomp and Circumstance March 4
R Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Colin Davis, Barry Tuckwell, Antonio Pappano conductors

Disc 4: Introduction and Allegro, Enigma Variations, Cello Concerto
Colin Davis, Rafael Frübeck de Burgos conductors
Felix Schmidt cello

The London Symphony Orchestra’s association with Elgar goes right back to their very first season in 1904 when the great man conducted them, and when their principal conductor, Hans Richter retired in 1911, he took over in that capacity for a while. This connection has remained strong in the ensuing 120 years, and thus the offerings in this box set may be seen as authentic and traditional to a quite remarkable extent.

Every major work by Elgar is included except for the violin concerto and Falstaff. Seven marches are included and there is an elegant cuckoo in this vibrant and crowded nest in the shape of VW’s Tallis Fantasia, presumably included because there was a convenient space for it (and also because the strings of the LSO played in the première in Gloucester cathedral in 1910). This inclusion does however remind the listener just how far apart the respective means of expression are, despite the fact that VW was only born 15 years later.

I imagine that this collection will appeal to different sorts of collectors.  For those starting out, the set is a remarkable bargain at just over £20, while ‘completists’ will eagerly seize upon it.  If like, I imagine, many BMS members, you have these items already in your collection you may feel. In the light of comments below that you may have second thoughts

The recordings are re-mastered mostly from live performances in 2001.  Interestingly the 3rd symphony has proudly emerged from the old spuriosity shop, thus allowing listeners to form their own opinion as to the ethics and value of Anthony Payne’s reconstruction.  Personally, I am fully in favour (just as I am with the completion of the last movement of Bruckner’s 9th symphony).  Put simply, it is an additional insight into the thoughts of a great mind.

Alert readers may realise that there is just a hint above – the trunk, as I were, of the elephant in the room.  The words ‘recorded live’ – which means the major works here were done in the Barbican Hall with its unideal acoustics.  (One commentator has remarked that the acoustic is the ‘most ‘important instrument in the orchestra.’)

My own experience of this matter identifies three different sorts of listener.  Firstly, some do not notice, secondly, some do notice and do not mind, thirdly, there are those who do notice and mind a lot. And I know where I stand.  It is simply that these vast scores do not flourish in this atmosphere, lacking bloom and spaciousness, especially in the climaxes which sounded constricted amd muffled.  

In addition, of course, there is no organ for the climax of the Enigma Variations. Ok, the score says it is ‘optional’ but it is needed in my view, and the over-riding case is underlined by the excellent recordings of the marches in Walthamstow Town Hall with its more generous ambiance and organ.

So, if the forgoing observation matter to you, then beware, if not then, by all means enjoy the special delights of this otherwise valuable issue.  There is also a very full programme booklet.

Review by Geoffrey Atkinson