Elgar: Enigma Variations

I am not, nor have ever been, fond of Elgar. He was a solid, Romantic composer, but forgettable to my ears, and seemed to have a reputation based on some underserved special pleading for the quality of English music from the 19th century to the early 20th. That being said, in the hands of committed performers who believe in the music, almost any piece can be made interesting, involving and even essential. It is to the credit of Norrington and the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra that this CD is a pleasure to listen to through and through.

Not being a fan, the make-weight pieces are new to me, and they are more than a pleasant surprise. On this disc, the In the South overture is sweeping and thrilling. It’s Elgar’s most famous work that is the point of the CD, though, and this is an excellent performance. I am not sentimental about the composer’s sentimentality and Romantic quality, I want to hear exactly what he does with his theme, I want the logic to convince me and the Romance to add fulfillment. Norrington, through what seems to me a deliberate hand, does just that. The music flows from note to note and phrase to phrase with a sense of inevitability, while the sonorities and graceful indulgences shine warmly and fleetingly. The rhetoric of the performance is fully convincing.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.