Although recorded live on two separate occasions, if this had been a single concert I would have gone to see it. Carlos Kalmar is a fine conductor, and the program is a very attractive one, nicely varied to display three major British composers on top form. So, for that matter, are the performances, with one notable exception. That exception is Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture, which receives a light, bubbly interpretation that sounds more like Offenbach or Sullivan. There’s none of that idiomatic, rib-sticking heartiness, never mind the gravitas, that characterizes the best British performances. It’s certainly not bad, but if you know and love the music, this will sound pretty strange.
Everything else, though, goes swimmingly. The Vaughan Williams receives a direct, flowing interpretation that shapes the musical argument into a single, satisfying arc, particularly in the outer movements. I also like the way that Kalmar paces the Romanza with a purpose that doesn’t disturb the rapt tranquility of the opening pages. As for the Britten, aside from perhaps one brief moment of rhythmic unsteadiness in the strings during “Sunday Morning”, the Sea Interludes are about as well done as they can be. The Passcaglia (intelligently placed before the “Storm” interlude) benefits from an exceptionally clear presentation of the main theme in the bass as the argument proceeds.
The live sonics are clean and clear, a bit dry, but realistically natural (I listened in SACD stereo); fortunately the audience behaves very well. I assume that the orchestra paid for this production, and from a purely marketing point of view it hardly fills an essential discographic niche. Still, the production speaks well for the quality of both the orchestra and its conductor. Even aside from that unidiomatic Elgar, it was very enjoyable to hear.