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 Favourites, Edward Elgar

Edward ElgarIt is a matter of some debate as to whether or not Elgar's music travels well abroad. In recent times more orchestras and conductors outside his native country have embraced his music, and the frequency of performances worldwide is pleasingly on the increase, although looking through my choices below, I notice that I have largely turned to British soloists, conductors, and orchestras. I have no doubt that many great recordings will appear from elsewhere, but for now, these are my favourites!

Orchestral Works

A stunningly authoritative set of the symphonies from the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis, including Anthony Payne's realisation of Symphony No. 3. This recording of Symphony No. 1 in particular must rank as one of my favourite Elgar recordings, with the ever-amazing brass section driving the symphony to its thoroughly thrilling conclusion.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

James Ehnes shows everyone else how it's done in this splendid live recording, supported by Sir Andrew Davis and the Philharmonia Orchestra. The fiendish passagework of the third movement seems to cause Ehnes no trouble at all, and there is playing of great poise in the second movement.

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Sir Colin Davis shows how masterful an Elgarian he was, using rubato to shape the opening theme quite superbly. There's plenty of energy in the Troyte and G.R.S. variations, whilst Nimrod features extremely moving, resplendent playing from the LSO strings.

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Norman del Mar conducts a suitably grandiose set of the Pomp and Circumstance marches with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, alongside a marvellous recording of the Enigma Variations.

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The main focus of this disc from Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé is an outstanding recording of the First Symphony, but I chose it here mainly because of the first-rate account of In the South. The central viola solo is tenderly performed, and as a bonus Christine Rice sings Canto Popolare, Elgar's own setting of the same viola tune to a text by Shelley.

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A charming collection of lesser-known works composed during the First World War, conducted by John Wilson. As well as the Polonia overture, Sursum Corda, and Sospiri, the disc includes rarities such as Le Drapeau Belge, and Carillon, featuring Simon Callow as narrator.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Choral and Vocal Works

Nicolai Gedda is the tortured soul approaching death in this recording conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Gedda's cry of "Take me away!" as he is allowed a glimpse of God for the first time is memorable indeed. The set also includes a wonderful recording of The Music Makers, with Dame Janet Baker treating us to her most honeyed of tones.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

An undoubted highlight of Sir Mark Elder's tenure of the Hallé has been his series of Elgar recordings, and this account of The Apostles is surely one of the best. A magnificent cast includes Paul Groves, Rebecca Evans, Alice Coote, and Jacques Imbrailo, and there is plenty of impressively enthusiastic singing from the Hallé Choir.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

From the very first moments of the orchestral prologue it's clear that Richard Hickox's recording of this "sequel" to The Apostles is going to be appropriately magisterial, and the singing is first-class, especially from David Wilson-Johnson.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Soprano Teresa Cahill leads an excellent quartet of soloists in this recording of the Coronation Ode, and Sir Alexander Gibson draws pleasingly bold and brassy playing from the Scottish National Orchestra. The final movement, with its famous setting of Land of Hope and Glory, is especially satisfying here.

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Not Elgar's best-known piece, by any means, but I still wanted to include this macabre tale of a malevolent knight arriving at a medieval court. With its scenes of jousting and general pageantry, it allows Elgar to treat us to some colourfully descriptive writing, every detail of which is brought out gleefully by Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

This fantasy story of sprites and stardust contains some of Elgar’s most enthralling music. For this recording, conductor Sir Andrew Davis presents the incidental music in its entirety, with linking narration performed with evident delight by Simon Callow. The score also contains several songs, sung by Roderick Williams and Elin Manahan Thomas, both of whom are on fine form.

Available Formats: 2 SACDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

A collection of Elgar's sacred choral music, including familiar pieces such as Give unto the Lord, Ave verum corpus, and Great is the Lord, as well as some more obscure offerings, all given expert performances by the choir of Worcester Cathedral under Donald Hunt.

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A lovely selection of Part-songs and other secular choral works, with some sensitive, refined singing from the Finzi Singers under Paul Spicer.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Instrumental and Chamber Works

A wonderfully warm recording of the String Quartet by the Goldner Quartet. They are joined by pianist Piers Lane for a sensitive performance of the under-rated Piano Quintet.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Tasmin Little brings her customary charm and delicacy to these Elgarian bonbons, here arranged for violin and orchestra and accompanied by Sir Andrew Davis and the BBC Philharmonic.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Boxed Sets

It seems fitting that several of my choices have featured the London Symphony Orchestra, as Elgar was their principal conductor from 1911-1912. This 9-disc set gathers all of the recordings of Elgar himself conducting (mainly with the LSO), including the Violin Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin.

Available Formats: 9 CDs, MP3, FLAC