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 Search Beat > Arts > Music > Styles > Classical Music > Featured Composer > Edward Elgar


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biography
Stately, reserved, velvety, and as comfortable as an expensive, broken-in pair of slippers and a smoking jacket, the music of Elgar (1857-1934) was the first important British music since Henry Purcell's. His debts to Wagner and Brahms nothwithstanding, Elgar was the quintessential Edwardian gentleman, full of understated eloquence. Here are his essential recordings.
recommended recordings
Elgar: Cello Concerto, Sea Pictures / Du Pré, Barbirolli [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED]
Composer: Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor: Sir John Barbirolli
Performer: Jacqueline Du Pré, Dame Janet Baker
Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Emd/Emi Classics - #56219 / September 16, 1997

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This is rightly regarded as the finest recording of Elgar's attractive and elegiac Cello Concerto. It's held in almost irrationally high esteem in the UK, largely because of the universal affection for Jacqueline Du Pré, the wife of Daniel Barenboim, whose early death from multiple sclerosis cut short what would have been a stellar career. This disc is equally noteworthy for Janet Baker's magnificent singing of the Sea Pictures, the composer's only orchestral song cycle. It's not Elgar's...Read more


Elgar: Enigma Variations, etc / Zinman, Baltimore SO
Composer: Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor: David Zinman
Ensemble: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Telarc - #80192 / September 28, 1989

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These are performances of such outstanding authority that even the British have praised them as among the very best available. The Baltimore Symphony plays with the utmost conviction and enthusiasm--Cockaigne really rocks, and the finale of Enigma, with a very well balanced optional organ part thrown in, is a sonic showcase. In fact, Telarc's sound is the best this music has ever been offered, with an especially impressive deep bass extension. There are many fine recordings of the Enigma...Read more


Elgar: The Music Makers, The Dream of Gerontius (British Composers) / Boult, et al.
Composer: Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor: Sir Adrian Boult
Performer: Dame Janet Baker, Nicolai Gedda, et al.
Ensemble: London Philharmonic Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, et al.
Emd/Emi Classics - #66540 / January 12, 1999

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Elgar's Dream of Gerontius is, in effect, a sung tone poem and resides at the core of English choral music; it is the supreme achievement among Elgar's large-scale works. Interestingly, its premiere came in the last months of the 19th century, a time, much like our own, when fluctuating styles and experimentation existed alongside a lingering and powerful devotion to the older, traditional ways. Thus, the release of this classic 1975 recording (intelligently paired with another sumptuous,...Read more


Elgar: Violin Concerto / Perlman, Barenboim, Chicago SO
Composer: Sir Edward Elgar, Ernest Chausson
Conductor: Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta
Performer: Itzhak Perlman
Ensemble: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Uni/Deutsche Grammophon - #45564 / March 12, 1996

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Perlman's Elgar has always caused consternation among English critics, largely because it's so much better played from a purely technical point of view than any performance by an English violinist. With its relatively swift tempos, the performance is sometimes judged to be lacking in repose and "inwardness," whatever that is. All of this is complete nonsense. Perlman's playing of this extremely long and difficult concerto places it squarely in the grand Romantic tradition, which is precisely...Read more


Elgar: Violin Concerto; Vaughan Williams / Kennedy, Rattle
Composer: Sir Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor: Simon Rattle
Performer: Nigel Kennedy
Ensemble: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Emd/Emi Classics - #56413 / January 20, 1998

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In July 1997, after a five-year self-imposed exile from the world of classical music, Nigel Kennedy--now known simply as Kennedy--returned to the scene of one of his earlier triumphs with this incident-packed account of the Elgar concerto. It's a reading that, in the first two movements, at least, displays a bristling temperament, rapt ardor, and go-for-broke spontaneity rare in a studio recording. In the opening Allegro, Kennedy's superbly commanding first entry as well as his ravishing handling of the "Windflower" second subject movingly recall Albert Sammons's miraculous 1929 recording with Sir Henry Wood (and there can be no higher praise than that). Oddly, the finale is not quite on the same level, being somewhat too brusque and calculated for comfort (Kennedy's playing in the exquisite cadenza was more moving in his earlier recording with Vernon Handley). Overall, though, it's a thrilling display, brimming with charisma and imaginative insight. Kennedy and Rattle's incredibly leisurely, self-consciously luxuriant way with The Lark Ascending (one of Vaughan Williams's most sublimely evocative nature poems) will probably not be everyone's cup of tea, but their performance of the Elgar simply must be experienced. --Andrew Achenbach

Elgar: Symphonies 1 & 2, etc / Davis, BBC Symphony
Composer: Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor: Andrew Davis
Ensemble: B. B. C. Symphony Orchestra
Wea/Atlantic/Teldec - #18951 / October 28, 1997

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Conductor Andrew Davis suffers from occasional bouts with that dreaded British bug--chronic dullness. He's not by any means a bad conductor, but you can always tell when he feels energized by the music he's playing or recording. Elgar is one of his great loves; that much is clear. These are his second recordings of the two symphonies, and they are excellent in every respect. Davis shapes both with a firm hand and a clear view of his final destination. Teldec's recorded sound is especially fine,...Read more


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