Elgar’s court of King Caractacus is just passing by Brexit Britain.
Certain conductors have become synonymous with particular composers. One thinks of Beethoven/Klemperer or Mahler/Bernstein. In the case of Elgar, the conductor who most often comes to mind is Sir Adrian Boult. He conducted and recorded Elgar’s music repeatedly over a period of 60 years, although when he first heard The Dream of Gerontius he predicted it wouldn’t last!
This box contains all his Elgar recordings for EMI. There are others: Boult famously recorded the symphonies for the small company Lyrita in 1968. But this collection contains practically all Elgar’s orchestral works, many obscure or secondary, usually in multiple performances. The only substantial work missing is the song cycle Sea Pictures, probably because Barbirolli’s EMI recording with Janet Baker swept the board.
Timings vary – Boult’s Enigma Variations runs 26:21 in 1936, 31:03 in 1953. Occasionally he rethinks his approach. The Shakespearean tone-poem Falstaff is mellow and its climaxes more triumphal in a late performance from 1973. In 1950, the piece sounds mercurial, lively and even comic. Perhaps the 84-year-old Boult took a more sympathetic view of the character? There is also a world of difference between Paul Tortelier’s aristocratic reading of the Cello Concerto and the 1945 performance by Pablo Casals. Boult deserves kudos for sticking with his wayward soloist, even though Casals’ involvement represented a de-parochialisation of the composer.
All three sacred cantatas are included. More internationalism appears via Nicolai Gedda’s superb Gerontius. Boult preferred The Kingdom, leading a committed performance with Margaret Price and Yvonne Minton. My favourite is a 1937 Introduction and Allegro for Strings. Though dryly recorded, the BBC Symphony musicians exude heart and virtuosity.