The complex character of Falstaff has provided meat for the table of many artists, from Shakespeare to Verdi, with Nicolai, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Walton and Salieri in between. Written 20 years after Verdi’s masterpiece, Elgar chose a set of orchestral variations to essay the life of the famous and foolish knight.

The work has always had a divided following, many finding the piece a little confusing and somewhat episodic. The dedicatee, conductor Landon Ronald said he “could never make head or tail of it.” In this, he echoes the opinions of many, for as Ernest Newman wrote: “the score shows us in many places quite a new Elgar, and one that the public will not assimilate very easily.” Even if one admires the craftsmanship, it appeals more to the intellect than the heart.

Nonetheless, there are many glorious moments. The swaggering...