Testing TypePad QuickPost bookmarklet (now there's a mouthful), and yes I realise the quoted portion of the article is on the long side.
It is with some relief that one turns to Elgar: An anniversary portrait. There is no editorial apparatus (Nicholas Kenyon provides a sensible introduction): nothing is given a date, nor its source revealed. But Hans Keller’s voice from the past is welcome. In “Elgar the Progressive” he examines the main theme of the Introduction and Allegro for Strings, which leads on to a discussion of pentatonicism in Elgar and how it relates to his “Englishness”. Most of the articles deal with the music itself. One which doesn’t nevertheless gives a useful piece of background. David Cannadine is a professional historian who is obviously also an intelligent and sensitive music-lover. His careful, reasonable study of Elgar’s upbringing, his place in Worcester society and later in London, and the influence of both places in forming his eventual political stance is well summed up:
"the composer often accused of being a vulgar, chauvinistic jingoist and a crude, unthinking imperialist turns out, on close examination, to have been, among many other things, something of a mid-Victorian liberal internationalist. This is hardly what might have been expected of someone who was the product of Tory, lower-middle-class, little-England Worcester, but Elgar was always a more complex and multi-layered figure than he at first sight appeared."
A short, rather personal, modest and honest article by Stephen Hough on “Elgar the Catholic” has all the virtues lacking from the equivalent attempt in Edward Elgar and His World. Christopher Kent then shows how the Serenade for Strings was developed from its sketches, and from an earlier string work of 1888, of which only the first movement so far has been recovered. He also discusses passages in The Kingdom and the First Symphony. This is genuine musicology, inhabiting its proper province.
A particular strength of the book is the way in which it rescues Elgar from the attentions of the musicologists and mercifully hands him over to his interpreters. Outstanding among these is Mark Elder, in conversation with Richard Morrison, who discloses a late, slow-burning but intense attraction to Elgar’s music and much experience in conducting it, in the course of which really grasping “this strange quirky mixture . . . of inner self-belief but also of a huge neurosis about nobody understanding his music” – which must be one of the best two-line descriptions of Elgar’s personality ever written. Elder has fascinating things to say about Elgar’s improvisatory habits as a recording conductor, and the diverse readings which sprang from them. Tasmin Little writes compellingly of the Violin Concerto and is full of practical suggestions about its performance, together with warnings of the toll its extreme length can take on a performer’s (and an audience’s) stamina. She mentions a cut that used to be made in the finale: but she doesn’t think that it works. Andrew Keener writes about Jacqueline du Pré’s recordings of the Cello Concerto. It is refreshing, after much emotional writing about this joyously instinctive and at present somewhat undervalued artist, to have many music examples which demonstrate how du Pré handled specific phrases.
Elgar has been getting some attention...
(Part of a longer review covering five different studies and collections of essays.)