Often regarded as Edward Elgar's most inventive work, the Variations on an Original Theme, "Enigma," Op. 36, has charmed listeners for more than a century, not only because of its tantalizing riddle, but more importantly, because of its colorful music and sumptuous orchestration. Elgar never revealed the actual enigma, which has nothing to do with the initials he used to identify friends he honored in the variations, for they have long been known. He stated that, "Over the whole set another and larger theme 'goes,' but is not played," though this secret subject, whether musical, literary, or philosophical, has never been uncovered. But because the piece is one of the most brilliant and memorable in the repertoire, audiences have been more than compensated for the lack of a solution to the puzzle. Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony present the Enigma Variations in a spectacular package that offers high-quality super audio, and the orchestra has remarkably vivid timbres and credible presence. Ashkenazy draws out all the marvelous sonorities with an ear for nuances, and the clever details of the score stand in high relief, so nothing is missed. Filling the remainder of the program is the Overture, "In the South" (Alassio), Op. 50, a rousing depiction of the Italian Riviera that is another showpiece for audiophiles to enjoy. The dynamic range of this recording is extraordinarily wide, so it will sound best on SACD players, though it is still breathtaking on a standard CD player.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Variations on an Original Theme "Enigma", Op. 36|