THE BIRMINGHAM Studio AUGMENTED ORCHESTRA
(Leader, FRANK CANTELL)
Conducted by JOSEPH LEWIS
Overture, ' Cockaigne,' Op. 40
Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 35 (The 'Enigma' Variations)
Triumphal March, ' Caractacus,' Op. 35
ALTHOUGH the Cockaigne Overture is already a quarter of a century old, the London of which it gives so bright a picture is very much the 'Town' as we know it today-many-sided, many-coloured, carefree and haphazard, but yet with a thought of its own dignity.
The opening is eloquent of the crowded streets, the bustle of everyday. Quite soon there is an episode descriptive, of the more serious and dignified side of London's character, and, after a return of the gay opening, we hear a theme which portrays two young lovers. London urchins are then cunningly presented by a merry doubling of the ' Nobilmente' theme (London's dignity) in the very way in which Wagner's ' Apprentices ' make fun of the stately Master's theme. A new episode is a Military Band heard first afar off, drawing near, and passing by with blatant pomp and brilliance, fading again into the distance. Again, a little later, the young lovers are assailed by band music-this time a rough-and-ready street band. Its well-meant, but dissonant, efforts are heard in a grotesque version of the first band tune. A quieter section follows ; the lovers have found sanctuary, and only echoes of the busy streets can reach them. What follows is repetition of these episodes, and the Overture finishes in the gay mood in which it began.
THE Enigma ' of these beautiful Variations, one of the best beloved orchestral pieces of our time, is a double one. The composer made it known, when the work appeared, that the theme on which the Variations are built goes with another and well-known tune, forming with it what is technically known as a ' counterpoint.' But no one has ever discovered what that well-known tune is, and, though the whole musical world has ' given it up,' as young people say of enigmas, Sir Edward has not divulged the answer. The other part of the enigma consists in initials or invented names, standing at the head of the Variations, and these denote what Elgar calls in the dedication ' My friends pictured within.' The theme itself, an original one of Elgar's, is in two parts, one in minor and one in the major ; in the third and fourth bars there is a drop of a seventh, which reappears in many of the transformations of the tune. Parts of the theme can always be recognized in their many reappearances, though reference to the whole tune is not always easy to trace. But the listener who hears the opening attentively will find it a real joy to follow the many changing characters which one theme, and part of a theme, may adopt. There are thirteen variations, two of which have only the slightest kinship with the theme-Variation X (Dorabella) which the composer calls ' Intermezzo,' and No. XIII (which has only three asterisks instead of name or initials as clue to the ' friend pictured within.') It has Romance' as title.
The work comes to an end with a noble Finale. But Elgar admitted to the friend who is the subject of the Ninth Variation, that in deference to the superstition about the number thirteen he had called it Variation XIV.