Elgar penned a number of “Concert Overtures,” in the mode of Brahms, including, in some order of prominence, the popular Cocakaigne and Froissart; In the South (Alassio) would probably finish third, and hasn’t been recorded often. It’s a superb piece, full of verve and dynamic melody, but very much requiring the special Elgarian touch which breathes life into his melodies, and inept hands render dull or bombastic. Boult recorded In the South twice, in 1955 and again in 1972 with the LPO on HMV. The earlier is my clear favorite, and I was lucky to recently pick up a pristine copy of the original issue, ALP-1359, which belies its mono sound, with whooping horns gloriously calling out the theme. (On CD here.) I learned the piece with Slatkin conducting the same band, 19 years later on an RCA CD. The companion Symphony No. 1 leaves much to be desired, but the Overture never sounded more glorious. It’s not as nuanced a reading as Sir Adrian in ’55 when there was probably a good cohort in the orchestra yet who had played under the composer.
The Gramophone favored the Boult and later a Bournemouth record from Constantin Silvestri, 1968 vintage, which truly turns the piece into something new: I’m reminded with this record of Stokowski’s knack of taking underappreciated, underperformed works and by seeming sheer force of will making them sound like masterpieces (my favorite examples are his 1958 Everest recording of Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet Overture and much later RCA Khachaturian Sym. No. 3, if you don’t know the work, go buy a copy on CD). Silvestri at this time was recording a lot of “showpieces” with HMV, including some in quadraphonic that made it onto the 8-track “TWO” imprint; doesn’t appear that the Elgar made the cut, a pity. The sound on the vinyl (ASD 2370) is the absolute height of HMV’s 1960s analogue wizardry: both immediate and lush, totally realistic and also dramatic in its sonic spacing. Available on CD in a number of iterations, though I can’t vouch for the sound. The performance is without equal, rising in its finlale that is positively stunning. And once again, I lament the fact that apparently only English orchestras, over decades, are interested in performing Elgar.