There are several enigmas associated with Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations. Who is the cryptic dedicatee of Variation XIII, identified only by the cypher “***” in the score? Is the enigma a mysterious tune (“Happy Birthday”?) coded into the music? And is there an enigma at all, or was the work’s title Elgar’s hunting call to set future music lovers off on a wild goose chase, a cosmic joke swaddled in Victorian drollery?
To those mysteries, English-born conductor Andrew Constantine added another when he suggested in his podium remarks that at this performance, the coins customarily used in place of the timpanist’s usual sticks in Variation XIII “might be the very coins” Elgar employed more than a century ago.