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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Sir Andrew Davis’s fine performance of the Enigma Variations, with Nimrod hushed, slow and steady, was recorded in the atmospheric surroundings of Worcester Cathedral, where Elgar said everyone should hear his music. Davis introduces a highly enjoyable documentary about the work and ‘the friends pictured within’. In the documentary he suggests that each variation, as well as reflecting the character of a particular friend, reveals much about Elgar himself, ‘like an actor playing many roles’. He sets the work clearly against the composer’s career, ‘the masterpiece that catapulted him to fame in 1899’, and each section is illustrated with archive material and in-period reconstructions, happily with no dialogue, only Davis’s narration. He concentrates on describing and analyzing nine of the 14 variations, his favourites, with plentiful orchestral clips of the music and illustrations played on the piano. Though the visual illustrations are fussy and irrelevant at times, the actual performance has no unwanted intrusions, just a sepia photo of the subject as each variation begins.

Brattleboro Reformer, June 2005

The DVD falls into two parts. The first is a playing of the work by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis in the cathedral in Elgar's hometown of Worcester. Subtitles give the number and cryptic name of each movement, and one can follow the program notes as each is played to learn something about the person being portrayed.

Then there is a 48-minute documentary in which Davis ties in the variations with the people and incidents in Elgar's life that inspired the music. He quickly makes it known that searching for the hidden theme is a fruitless effort, albeit fun, and spends most of the time describing the movements. Some of the visuals are gorgeous, some on the brink of being silly, but the whole film holds together very nicely.

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