ELGAR: Enigma Variations, Op. 36; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis – Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
HDTT HDCD208, 45:40 [avail. in various formats incl. hi-res at www.highdeftapetransfers.com] ****:
Taken from a 1959 HMV stereo LP (SXLP 20007), this elegant restoration from HDTT refreshes the soberly enthusiastic work in British music by Sir Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967), noted for his flair in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas as well as in the large oratorio repertory of Handel. The familiar Enigma Variations proceed with suave debonair confidence, the Philharmonia graced at the time with concertmaster Manoug Parikian, who occasionally makes his fleet presence known. The Presto “Troyte” variation conveys a roughneck buoyancy, while the succeeding variant, “W.N.,” seems tinged with an airy nostalgia worthy of A.E. Housman. We always await the mysterious breadth of “Nimrod” with heightened anticipation: Sargent molds its graduated optimistic majesty with linear but ardent poise. Brass, strings, and tympani converge in valedictory grandeur. “Dorabella” then appears eminently balletic, light, nimble, a tad flirtatious. After the whirlwind “G.R.S.” variation, Sargent basks in the cello variation “B.G.N.,” with its hint of the tragic muse. Lovely work from the Philharmonia woodwinds to usher in the “* * *” variant, which quotes from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Overture, likely an allusion to the departure to New Zealand of Elgar’s old fiancée, Helen Weaver. Sargent imparts a quick excitement into the final variation, “E.D.U,” a portrait of Elgar’s own expansive personality, a miniature “empire” of musical and charismatic ambitions.
The perennial string Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) of Vaughan Williams, like the music of Orff and Britten, applies modern harmony to ancient modes, here those specifically set in the Phrygian mode for the 1567 Psalter. The application of organ sonority to the piece by dividing the participants into tutti, front-desk choir, and string quartet provides a shifting texture for the protean liturgy of the main theme and its haunted, viola-laden middle section. Plangent but erotic, the melodies throb and pulsate in alternate sonic densities, wending their way to a voluptuous climax, though none has ever reached the searing intensity Mitropoulos bestowed upon this incandescent masterpiece.
I like everything about this HDTT restoration–via the Lynx AES16 digital system–except the total time, which could easily have incorporated Sargent’s fine readings of Holst’s St. Paul Suite or Warlock’s Capriol Suite that made outstanding impressions on me in their Capitol Records incarnation.
— Gary Lemco