Daniel Barenboim – Elgar – Sea Pictures. Falstaff (2020)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 58:49 minutes | 0,99 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Decca Music Group Ltd.
No conductor working today has done more to internationalise Elgar’s music than Daniel Barenboim. Like Georg Solti and Bernard Haitink before him, Barenboim has recognised that the best of Elgar’s music deserves to be compared with that of his European contemporaries, and that its roots are often more firmly embedded in Austro-German late Romanticism than they are in the pastoral landscapes of Edwardian England. He made an extensive series of Elgar recordings with the London Philharmonic in the 1970s, but returned to the composer in 2014 with a recording of the Second Symphony, followed two years later by the First. Magnificently played by the Berlin Staatskapelle, with its burnished, dark central European sound, both performances were a revelation, immediately reconnecting Elgar with the composers he most admired, Brahms and Richard Strauss. If Barenboim’s subsequent Berlin recording of The Dream of Gerontius was less exceptional, it still cast fresh light on a staple of the British choral repertoire.
Elgar: Sea Pictures; Falstaff album art work
The two works on this latest disc present a very different challenge, however. Where the symphonies and even Gerontius relate very obviously to European archetypes, there’s something much more indelibly English about both Falstaff and the song cycle Sea Pictures. Falstaff is the nearest that Elgar came to composing a Straussian tone poem (he called it a “symphonic study”), but there is something missing here. Technically once again the performance is impeccable, but it misses a nostalgic dimension that the finest British recordings – Adrian Boult’s, John Barbirolli’s – identify more convincingly without ever becoming twee, which Barenboim’s performance unexpectedly does.
The Latvian mezzo Elīna Garanča is the soloist in Sea Pictures. Janet Baker’s recording with Barbirolli is the benchmark here, and though Garanča’s diction can be indistinct and she doesn’t match Baker’s conviction in the fusty Victorian poetry that Elgar sets, her golden sound and warm, supple phrasing are still very appealing on their own terms.
Three composers are particularly well suited to conductor Daniel Barenboim: Bruckner, Wagner and Sir Edward Elgar; no doubt a question of orchestral colour and texture. Since his collaboration with the Universal labels has resumed (Decca for orchestral projects, Deutsche Grammophon for piano), he has once again been exploring the English composer’s orchestral works with his beloved Staatskapelle Berlin, an ensemble characterised by dark timbres. After beautiful versions of the two symphonies and The Dream of Gerontius, what a joy it is to now be able to immerse ourselves in Sea Pictures, one of the most poetic song cycles of the late 19th century. The broad spectrum of the Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča’s voice and her silky timbre fit perfectly with the lyrical yet tragic lines of Where Corals Lie (the most beautiful “song” of the cycle), as well as with the more theatrical The Swimmer, which takes on a truly extravagant tone. Unlike many other recordings since the legendary 1965 recording by Dame Janet Baker and Sir John Barbirolli with the London Symphony Orchestra (His Master’s Voice), Elīna Garanča and Daniel Barenboim willingly drop the melancholy and contemplative tone of Sea Pictures. More in keeping with the romantic performances of the early 19th century (Berlioz), following a pattern of “Introduction” (Sea Slumber Song), “Aria I” (In Haven), an alternating form mixing recitatives and ariosos (Sabbath Morning at Sea), “Aria II” (Where Corals Lie) and “Conclusion” (The Swimmer), they have created a much more dramatic atmosphere despite very measured tempo contrasts. Barenboim’s clearly drawn phrasings in the introduction of the last “song” can testify to this new approach, which in this respect is very different from the earlier recording with Yvonne Minton (CBS). Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin continue the programme with the symphonic study Falstaff, composed in 1912, on which the conductor underlines its links with the work of Richard Strauss (Don Quixote, Ein Heldenleben). As always, Daniel Barenboim’s conducting is full of verve (Falstaff’s March). A truly wonderful rendition. – Pierre-Yves Lascar
1. Elina Garanca – I. Sea Slumber Song
2. Elina Garanca – II. In Haven (Capri)
3. Elina Garanca – III. Sabbath Morning at Sea
4. Elina Garanca – IV. Where Corals Lie
5. Elina Garanca – V. The Swimmer
6. Daniel Barenboim – I. Falstaff and Prince Henry
7. Daniel Barenboim – IIa. Eastcheap
8. Daniel Barenboim – IIb. Gadshill – The Boar’s Head – Revelry and Sleep
9. Daniel Barenboim – IIc. Revelry and Sleep
10. Daniel Barenboim – IId. Dream Interlude
11. Daniel Barenboim – IIIa. Falstaff’s March
12. Daniel Barenboim – IIIb. The Return Through Gloucestershire
13. Daniel Barenboim – IIIc. Interlude: Gloucestershire. Shallow’s Orchard
14. Daniel Barenboim – IIId. The New King – The Hurried Ride to London
15. Daniel Barenboim – IVa. King Henry V’s Progress
16. Daniel Barenboim – IVb. The Repudiation of Falstaff, and His Death