Elgar: Enigma Variations, Op 36; In the South (Alassio), Op 50; Carillon, Op 75; Une voix dans le désert, Op 77; Le drapeau belge, Op 79; Pleading, Op 48

Reviewed on Wed 04 Jan, 2017

Every work is recreated with penetrating musicianship and skilled empowerment from the podium. Every performance is of superlative calibre.

In the South swaggers in as it should, but Vivace here isn’t as thrusting as might have been expected. Restraint hints at thoughtfulness; and Martyn Brabbins is unerringly in control as at 2’09” when the marking Molto espressivo e largamente introduces a series of mood changes, a fragment in C minor for strings given added sobriety when repeated with mutes attached; and later (11’01”) the 'Canto Popolare' viola solo played with the utmost depth. Every work is recreated with penetrating musicianship and skilled empowerment from the podium. Every performance is of superlative calibre. In the inspired, inspiring exposé of the Enigma Variations the theme steals in softly, hesitantly perhaps, and dissolves l’istesso tempo (at the same tempo) into variation one, the portrait of Alice. Brabbins senses similarities in character between the two; and unusually interprets the theme also as a prelude to Elgar’s extended feelings for his wife. Thoughtfulness again, governing too the balancing of instruments, dynamics, phrasing and tempo relationships. Sample variation nine, starting triple piano as required, crotchet = 52 as marked, un-mawkishly swelling into a supremely chaste portrait of 'Nimrod'. The production team of Andrew Keener and Simon Eadon play their part too. Enough said.
–Nalen Anthoni