Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Authentic Avant-garde Elgar

Or, Roger Norrington's Elgar 1 on Tuesday Night, about which I will wax wildly enthusiastic in a day or two when I've managed to catch up a bit.  For the first time, I grasped what Hans Richter meant, and I could believe Elgar really was in the avant-garde at the time.

The first movement was quite Mahlerian; which put off a French friend of mine who was listening with me and who I've been hopelessly, but determinedly, trying to convert to Mahler for 20 years. And there was a surprisingly robust pastoral element quite removed from the usual Malvern hills imagery you get. (I've been there, and to someone brought up in the Pennines like me, they're not hills, just pimples on the landscape, and molehills is somehow what so often come to mind in some Elgar 1's.) I'll gloss over my unreconstructed friend's snorted conviction that she could even  hear "gambolling ducks", but she's of the 'cowpat composer' persuasion and was being rather vehement about it, and I misheard it as "gambling". Norrington's Elgar was in some ways certainly a gamble, far more than a gambol, and I wish I'd gone to the RAH to hear it live.

A few years ago at lunch in Abbey Road between recording sessions, the principal horn of  the LSO told me he'd just bought a French Horn made in 1901, so he was 'all ready for the authentic Elgar revival'. Stupid of us to laugh (I thought he was being a bit sarky, but didn't dare say too much about my authentic instruments enthusiasm, because it was a comment of mine that had led to his crack in the first place, so I laughed, a bit hollowly, as well) after Tuesday night's Prom . . .Of course, what I should have pushed maybe was the idea of 'authentic performance' which Norrington excels at now.

Roger Norrington's interview can be heard from this page. Well worth it! (And he says some things I never dared write, however fervently I thought them. But then, I'm only a dilettante amateur.)

It is odd how a little flippant (but delightfully played) 'lollipop' like tonight's encore can feel like a bit of a letdown at home when you feel like quietly savouring the recollection of the performances (and the Haydn Cello concerto was superb, too) whereas in the hall, live, it's often a welcome release from the tension of concentrating so hard for the previous 50 minutes or more which Prommers are noted for. I wonder why that is?

(R3 relay) Prom 7: Elgar Symphony No 1

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