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Daniel Barenboim - Elgar 'Sea Pictures,' 'Falstaff' is a lovely performance / theartsdesk

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It's to mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča's huge credit that I found myself listening to the texts Elgar set in his Sea Pictures more closely than usual. She's superb – rich-toned, and with excellent diction, her efforts highlighting my problem with this song cycle, namely that the poems set are a tad variable. "Where Corals Lie" and "Sea Slumber Song" work for me, but "The Swimmer" is too wordy by half. This is still a lovely performance, Daniel Barenboim's well-drilled Staatskapelle Berlin nail Elgar's style, the textures never too thick.

All fine, though you really need this disc for Barenboim's Falstaff. This long, Straussian "symphonic study" was a flop when premiered in 1913, though Elgar claimed to have enjoyed writing it more than anything else he'd written. It's a grower, a piece that needs repeated hearings to work its magic. I'm always floored by the quirkiness of the opening theme, an earworm that's impossible to sing. Try it and see. Barenboim understands this music's subtlety and psychological depth, and his performance has both belly laughs and pathos. Falstaff's descent into sleep and the bittersweet "Dream Interlude" are sweetly done here, and Elgar's curt ending is painful but appropriate. It's played with real warmth and affection, the Berlin brass and winds especially impressive. 

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