There are numerous recordings of Elgar's Enigma Variations, Op. 36, on the market. Some of them, despite the general belief that it takes the English to perform Elgar the way it takes the Russians to perform Shostakovich, are top-notch even without English players in sight. This one, by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the indefatigable Martyn Brabbins, can stand up to the competition. The marquee work is the main attraction. Brabbins crafts a detailed, rather deliberate Enigma Variations (although not as deliberate as Leonard Bernstein's recording of some years back), with sharp characterizations of the individuals named by their initials in Elgar's score, but also with a sense for the flow of the whole. This is key: despite the personal nature of the work, Elgar intended it as susceptible to being heard as a kind of symphony. The opening In the South, Op. 50, is also worthwhile: it's a tough, vigorous reading that you might sample at the very beginning. You also get some rather rare Elgar: a trio of patriotic recitations with texts from England's World War I ally Belgium, and a song, Pleading, Op. 48, performed in an all-instrumental version. The sound from Glasgow's City Halls is transparent. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Variations for orchestra 'Enigma', Op. 36|