ELGAR: Enigma Variations; Introduction & Allegro – London Symphony Orchestra – Sir Colin Davis, conductor – LSO Live

by | Nov 29, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

ELGAR: Enigma Variations; Introduction & Allegro – London Symphony Orchestra – Sir Colin Davis, conductor – LSO Live Multichannel SACD – LSO 0609, 48 mins. **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

LSO Live’s recordings are just that – always sourced from live recordings at London’s Barbican, and while from the early outset they struck me as hit or miss, they often misfired, mostly due to their live nature. No matter how idiomatic the performance, or how incredible the playing – especially in a media format targeted at the audiophile market – if the sonics don’t measure up, the disc is essentially a failure. All LSO Live discs carry verbiage on the packaging that refers to their proprietary “high density” recordings, and that’s how the early batch of LSO Live discs struck me – dense, impenetrable soundfields that made any meaningful enjoyment of the performance next to impossible. In all likelihood, the problems stemmed from an inability on LSO Live’s part to effectively deal with the rather dry acoustic of the Barbican. Gladly to say, they seem to have remedied most of the sonic maladies, and my recent experience has proved quite enjoyable, with superb performance values accompanied by remarkably good sound, and at a bargain price to boot.

The mystery surrounding the Enigma Variations has dragged on for more than a century, with every few years new scholarly research offering up the “true meaning” behind the enigma. As the story goes, Elgar lit himself a cigar and sat at the piano one evening, engaged in sheer improvisation, when his wife interrupted him to remark that she really enjoyed “that tune.” He withdrew from his daydream and reconstructed his playing to her satisfaction, and that improvisational grain of thought became the source variation for the oft-debated Enigma Variations. Sir Colin Davis is infinitely familiar with this most Edwardian of English music, and he offers a performance that is both parts intimate and lovely, and brashly thrilling with truly impressive percussive dynamics. As filler, he offers a passionately conducted Introduction and Allegro for Strings. While this disc may come up a bit short at only 48 minutes, it makes up for in quality its shortcomings in quantity. Highly recommended.

– Tom Gibbs

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