Holst and Elgar: Is Andrew Litton Getting Bored?

Review by: David Hurwitz

HolstLitton

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

Andrew Litton has recorded both of these works before, quite successfully. On the plus side, these remakes do suggest a slightly different view of the music, but on the minus side, the differences aren’t necessarily positive. To get right to the point, these are more interventionist readings than previously. For example, while remaining basically within normal interpretive parameters as regards tempo and overall shaping, Litton now imposes big ritards at major inflection points–the climax of Mars, for example, or in the closing bars of the Enigma Variations. This wouldn’t matter so much if the orchestra had the heft to bring home the bacon, so to speak, but it doesn’t. I kept waiting for the promised pulverizing, sonic cataclysm, but it never actually arrived.

The result sounds gratuitous, as if Litton is futzing with phrasing out of boredom rather than expressive necessity. I suppose the lesson is that if you’re going to go for broke, especially in orchestral showpieces like these, you’d better succeed at it. Litton doesn’t quite do that, and the irony is that the overall impression would have been more powerful and impressive had he not tried so hard to make the point. BIS’ sonics, too, are good rather than fabulous–the organ, for instance, could have more presence–while the packaging is “eco-friendly,” which means that like organic cereal, you pay more and get less. At least the playing time, at 82 minutes, is more than generous if that’s your main concern.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Holst: Karajan (Decca); Boult (EMI), Elgar: Jochum (DG); Monteux (Decca)


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