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European Academies’ Symphony Orchestra at The Barbican
& the Enigma Variations on DVD

Mozart Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)
Elgar Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36
Sibelius Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105

European Academies’ Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis
Barbican Hall, London, April 14, 2005

A good (though costly) idea, to tour young players from London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Finland's Sibelius Academy, and Vienna's University of Music & Performing Arts around their respective countries. Perhaps the results will be better in Lahti, after a disappointing start in London. The orchestral sections had been trained by LSO principals, so I gathered, and delivered to Sir Colin Davis to mature their interpretations of orchestral standards under his guidance. Somehow, it did not all gel; not a patch on Britain's National Youth Orchestra, whose players are younger and not all destined to become professionals.

The programme was the sort to be chosen by a committee. National interests might have been better served by, say, Webern and Tippett instead of three standards. Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ was a mistake; lack-lustre with a huge strings section based on eight double basses. Elgar’s Enigma Variations were under characterised, and section leaders were tentative when they got a solo spot, concerned to try not to fluff their moments, rather than seizing them. Davis made little effort to balance the orchestral departments and the brass played consistently too loud. I had never tired of the Enigma until tonight, and we didn't stay for the Sibelius, which by some accounts went better.

Elgar's Enigma Variations on DVD

BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis

Opus Arte DVD OA 0917 D

To restore my belief in Elgar's imperishable masterwork I returned to play the new BBCSO DVD which has a performance of huge vitality filmed in Worcester cathedral (June 2004) with pictures of each of the 'friends pictured within' preceding each variation.

It is accompanied by A Hidden Portrait, a BBC TV 'drama-documentary' filmed in the Malvern Hills; an analytic survey by Sir Andrew Davis who examines the background in Elgar's life at the time when his career suddenly emerged from the parochial and burst onto the world stage.

A fine production by BBC/Opus Arte which will give pleasure and satisfaction world-wide.


© Peter Grahame Woolf