Composers: Elgar, Chadwick
Compositions: FalstaffTam O’Shanter
Performers: BBC Welsh Orchestra/Constantine
Catalogue Number: Orchid ORC100103

This is the weirdest “concept” album I’ve ever encountered. The notion of recording Elgar’s unjustly neglected symphonic poem Falstaff with interpolations from both parts of Henry IV (intoned here by father and son Sir Timothy West as Falstaff and Samuel West as Prince Hal) works, up to a point, but it’s hardly destined for repeated listening. That said, there is a conventional uninterrupted version as well, and excellent it is.

I’ve always shied away from Falstaff because I found it too diffuse to be an effective character study, unlike Strauss’s Don Quixote. Andrew Constantine and the BBC Welsh Orchestra changed all that: the playing is lustrous with the more intimate wistful scenes beautifully caressed and the heraldic episodes truly refulgent.

Things become rather convoluted when the remaining contents consist of the late Romantic and relatively obscure US composer William Chadwick’s symphonic poem Tam O’Shanter, complete with an American-accented monologue quoting the composer, followed by Robbie Burns’ poem recited (inevitably) in a Scottish brogue. At least the music is uninterrupted.

The Chadwick is played wittily and brilliantly and the picaresque flavour of the score is perfectly captured: I kept thinking of Malcolm Arnold helter-skelter mixed with Berliozian diablerie in the witches’ sequence. The CD has been superbly engineered and conducted. Constantine is a fine Elgarian. Buy it for the orchestral playing.

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