THE BEST RECORDING SIR MARK ELDER
BESIDES COMING THROUGH THE ranks as a professional violinist, Elgar played several other instruments fluently, and his knowledge here engendered a work so securely written for every section of the orchestra that it’s almost impossible for a performance to come off badly. Then again, achieving an exceptional one isn’t straightforward either: the range of musical portraits is so varied, with orchestral imagination to match, that finding a near-ideal touch with each one can be elusive. Sir Mark Elder’s (right) interpretation with the Hallé, recorded live in Manchester in 2002, is as good as you can get. The orchestra’s way with the Enigma theme sets a benchmark, with the strings beautifully shaded and balanced.
The variation sequence that follows offers one delight after another – the poise of the opening woodwind in ‘R.B.T.’ (Richard Townshend); a hushed beginning to ‘Nimrod’ (Alfred Jaeger, Elgar’s publisher), making the music’s growth towards its exalted peroration all the more memorable; and a wonderfully poignant contribution from the cellos in ‘B.G.N.’ (Basil Nevinson, Elgar’s cellist colleague).
The emotional charge that builds through all this is genuinely moving. There’s a separately recorded bonus of Elgar’s original finale to the work, whose abrupt final bars Jaeger and Richter persuaded him to expand after that history-making first performance.