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Although this disc has the ‘symphonic study’ Falstaff as its principal offering, the couplings offer great interest. The performance of Falstaff itself is very idiomatic indeed. Davis finds huge detail: he seems to prove you can have the Edwardian swagger and fullness without being overburdened sonically. There is tenderness, too, in the ‘Dream Interlude’. The SACD recording itself is simply beautiful, the BBC Philharmonic sounding burnished and lush. The clean-cut baseline is supplemented with a real Elgarian depth – Davis has a fervour that confirms Falstaff as first-rank Elgar.

Baritone Roderick Williams has just the right voice for the three restrained Op 59 songs, while the two of Op 60, orchestrated by the composer, burst with power and nobility. All of the vocal contributions are sterling, and one wonders if this repertoire might lead some listeners towards the beauty of Elgar’s part songs?

To end the disc with the 49-second Smoking Cantata is pure genius.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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