Elgar: Falstaff, Orchestral Songs (SACD)

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BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davis

Sir Andrew Davis takes his multi-award-winning Elgar discography to the next level with breathtaking interpretations of Falstaff, Elgar’s most accomplished and characteristic work, and several orchestral songs, with exemplary support from the BBC Philharmonic, all recorded in surround-sound.

Owing to its technical challenges and more complex harmonic language, the composer always had a high opinion of Falstaff, saying that he had enjoyed writing it ‘more than any other music I have ever composed and perhaps for that reason it may prove to be among my best efforts’. His earlier music for Grania and Diarmid pays tribute to the Irish legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne; the Funeral March is probably Elgar’s noblest creation, and echoes the popular Pomp and Circumstance Marches.

The various less well-known songs, given heroic interpretations by the baritone Roderick Williams OBE, span the multiple facets of Elgar’s style, from the stern and dramatic impressions of Op. 60 to the satirical and impish jollity of ‘Kindly do not SMOKE’.

Recorded: 22 January 2017
Recording Venue: MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester

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Elgar: Falstaff - Symphonic Study in C minor, Op. 68 36:00

  1. I. Falstaff & Prince Henry 3:09
  2. IIa. Eastcheap 2:54
  3. IIb. Gadshill - The Boar's Head - Revelry & Sleep. Allegro molto 9:21
  4. IIc. Revelry & Sleep. Molto tranquillo 1:14
  5. IId. Dream Interlude 2:36
  6. IIIa. Falstaff's March 2:58
  7. IIIb. The Return Through Gloucestershire 1:27
  8. IIIc. Interlude. Gloucestershire, Shallow's Orchard 1:34
  9. IIId. The New King - The Hurried Ride to London 1:06
  10. IVa. King Henry V's Progress 3:29
  11. IVb. The Repudiation of Falstaff, and His Death 6:12

    Elgar: Song Cycle, Op. 59 6:35
  12. No. 3, O Soft Was the Song 1:54
  13. No. 5, Was It Some Golden Star? 2:13
  14. No. 6, Twilight 2:28

    Elgar: 2 Songs, Op. 60 (Version for Voice & Orchestra) 6:44
  15. No. 1, The Torch 2:39
  16. No. 2, The River 4:05

    Elgar: Grania & Diarmid, Op. 42 10:19
  17. I. Moderato 3:22
  18. II. Funeral March 6:57

  19. Elgar: The Wind at Dawn (version for voice and orchestra) 3:17

  20. Elgar: Pipes of Pan (version for voice and orchestra) 3:52

  21. Elgar: Pleading, Op. 48 (version for voice and orchestra) 2:27

  22. Elgar: The King's Way (version for voice and orchestra) 4:09

  23. Elgar: Smoking Cantata 0:49

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 Andrew Davis captures all the light and shade of Elgar's Shakespearean character in a stunning new recording. 


Edward Elgar immortalised Shakespeare's Falstaff in 1913, in a tone poem similar to Richard Strauss's Don Quixote. This musical portrait of the vain, overweight knight was painted with a good deal of sympathy––especially in the closing scene after Falstaff has been banished by young King Henry, his former drinking mate. (Elgar took his inspiration from the Henry IV plays.)

This is a superb performance. Andrew Davis gave us a terrific recording once before, but this one trumps it in character and sound quality. Listen to the inebriated bassoon in the second section ("At the Boar's Head Tavern"). I laughed out loud! The lyrical passages, such as Falstaff's death, are touchingly done.

The incidental music to the play Grania and Diarmid  is vintage Elgar too. Typical nobility pervades the Funeral March. Elgar's songs are less well known, and frankly, some of the poetry is fairly lame. "The King's Way", for instance, is a tribute to the opening of a new road called The King's Way. The unimaginative poem by Elgar's wife Alice does little but repeat the name of the street. Fortunately (or not) Roderick Williams has remarkably clear diction, along with a warm baritone voice, while the composer's piquant orchestrations are balanced perfectly by the Chandos engineers.

The final selection shows Elgar's humour. It is a monumental orchestral setting of the line, "Kindly do not smoke in the hall or the staircase"; a scolding he copped from a friend he was visiting. Swirling flute lines represent the tell-tale smoke.