ELGAR: Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and Strings, Op. 47; Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 “Engima”; BRITTEN: Our Hunting Fathers, Op. 8 – Heather Harper, soprano/ London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink – LPO

by | Nov 17, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

ELGAR: Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and Strings,
Op. 47; Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 “Engima”; BRITTEN: Our
Hunting Fathers, Op. 8 – Heather Harper, soprano/ London Philharmonic
Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink – LPO 0002, 75:16 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)
****:

Here are some historical rarities: Bernard Haitink led the London
Philharmonic from 1967-1979, and his predilection for clean,
articulated orchestral lines, along with a generous budget to explore
new repertory, created memorable evenings at the Royal Festival Hall.
An alternately muscularly driven and intimate performance of Elgar’s
1905 concerto grosso (27 November 1984), which he calls Introduction
and Allegro, permits us to enjoy the composer‚s pastoral visions, along
with contrapuntal dexterity. Violinist David Nolan leads the string
quartet concertino for the plaintive downshifts in dynamics and scale.
The Enigma Variations (28 August 1986) glows with opulent string and
wind colors, some pungent brass and tympani effects (as in Troyte)
coming right at you. Affectionate and grand, the series of variations
emanates a robust health and vigor, all edified by superb recorded
sound.

Britten composed Our Hunting Fathers for the 1936 Norfolk and Norwich
Triennial Festival, his first large work for orchestra. The texts by
W.H. Auden and Thomas Ravenscroft, a curious juxtaposition of ideas
about the hunt – mostly savage and predatory – includes “Rats, Away!”
in which a besieged narrator prays for deliverance from a scourge of
the pestilential rodents. The work opens with a recitative in which the
singer discusses the contradictions of the hunt, a combination of love
and hate. The third section, by an anonymous poet, has a young girl,
Messalina, bewailing the loss of her pet monkey. Ravenscroft’s Dance of
Death applauds, with its Mahler-like eerie march, eight hunting dogs
for their virtues, along with the use of falcons to bring home prey. A
soft “Whurret” has a falcon land on the falconer’s glove. The Epilogue
returns to the recitative style, a quiet condemnation of “that fine
tradition” enmeshed in guilt. Heather Harper and Haitink (14 August
1979) each have their work cut out: she must warble, sing, glissando,
and employ a kind of sprechstimme influenced by Schoenberg’s Pierrot,
even while the orchestral coloring hints at the same composer’s
Gurrelieder and Pelleas and Melisande. The writing for the orchestra
battery section is Stravinsky and Koechlin. A virtuoso document on all
counts.

–Gary Lemco

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