BRITTEN The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Peter Grimes: 4 Sea Interludes. ELGAR Enigma Variations • Paavo Järvi, cond; Cincinnati SO • TELARC 60660 (Hybrid Multichannel SACD: 66:18)
This is not only a useful collection of basic British big-orchestra material, it is a very well-performed and splendidly recorded program. Each work is a sequence of short items—variations, in two cases—yet Paavo Järvi holds them together ably; somehow he manages to keep the music from being episodic without slighting any of its color and variety.
Each variation in Britten’s Young Person’s Guide is nicely characterized, thanks as much to the individual musicians as to the conductor. Supporting lines receive as much care as the instrumental groups Britten spotlights in turn, resulting in a performance of unusual detail and richness. Järvi is sensitive to the music’s humor; nothing here is ever stuffy, and even the opening statement of the Purcell theme is grand as well as muscular, but not at all pompous.
In the Peter Grimes music, Järvi leans a bit on the dissonances in the subsidiary material to increase the music’s already pervasive unease. The concluding “Storm” could have been a bit more violent, especially at the end, but overall Järvi and his orchestra put across the music with the requisite drama. It’s a pity they didn’t also offer the Peter Grimes Passacaglia.
Edward Elgar was usually hapless when confronted with larger forms (the Cello Concerto is fine, but the Second Symphony and Violin Concerto are bloated corpses of Romanticism). His true métier was as a miniaturist, and so his Enigma Variations, a series of miniatures, not surprisingly stands as one of his finest extended works. Järvi begins darkly, but by the third variation, he’s as playful as the music requires; this performance does not have the sustained darkness of, say, Slatkin’s, but the serious moments do carry a fair amount of gravity. “Nimrod,” for example, begins very slowly and very quietly, builds nobly, and then the decrescendo from the climax is smooth and actually makes sense—it’s an easing off, not a dribbling away. Some other Enigma performances have greater depth overall (Bernstein, anyone?), but Järvi and his orchestra put the work across well.
In terms of recorded sound, the Cincinnati Symphony has been gaining presence (perhaps just getting closer to the microphones) over the course of its Telarc SACD releases. Here it offers a full, rich sound, the woodwinds clearly further back than the strings, but not seeming as distant as in some past recordings. Perhaps there’s less front-channel reverberation, too. All in all, this is a highly satisfactory release. --James Reel