Critic’s Choice

February 17, 2016 at 3:36 pm

By David Wright


The Edwardian Age wasn’t named for Sir Edward Elgar, but it may as well have been.  The distinguished English composer set the tone for the time with his “stout and steaky” marches and melodies of manly sentimentality.

But behind the much-decorated public figure was a private Elgar who, as in the Variations that are his most famous orchestral piece, presented an “enigma” even to his friends.  This man allowed his long thoughts and melancholy moods to enrich his first attempt at a symphony, undertaken in 1908, when he was 50 years old and already famous.  The work was immediately embraced by audiences and critics as “sublime … the noblest [work] ever penned for instruments by an English composer” (Manchester Guardian).

Now, as Downton Abbey closes its run on TV, one can experience the private lives of the Edwardians in a different way, with three opportunities to hear Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 performed by the Boston Philharmonic under its music director Benjamin Zander.

Schumann’s brooding Manfred Overture and Mendelssohn’s elegant Violin Concerto (with California-born, Harvard-and-NEC- educated Jennifer Frautschi as soloist) complement the Elgar work on the program.

Thursday’s concert is part of the Philharmonic’s “Discovery Series,” with “live” program notes by Zander, illustrated with orchestral excerpts, before each work.  Before the Saturday and Sunday performances, Zander will give more general talks about classical music, free to ticketholders.

The program will be performed 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre, 8 p.m. Saturday at NEC’s Jordan Hall (conductor’s talk 6:45 p.m.), and 3 p.m. Sunday at Sanders Theatre (conductor’s talk 1:45 p.m.).

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