on 24 September 2012
It has been wonderful to observe the accumulating excellence of Mark Elder's recordings with the Halle. The more so for me, as, some years ago, I used to play with that fine band. In fact, I remember performing this very work, though with the late-lamented Maurice Handford carving.
But the orchestra that Elder conducts is something of a different animal. It doesn't appear to have lost the warmth of earlier times, but now has a sureness of attack, an integration of tone that was sometimes lacking.
The same can be said of the Halle Choir; in the past, there was sometimes weak or unattractive tone in the men's voices; not now. There is power a-plenty, but with consistent beauty of tone and security of pitch.
So this recording, taken from a live performance in May of this year (plus a rehearsal no doubt for 'patching'), is a joy and a revelation. When it comes to the big moments, Elder and his forces take no prisoners- the orchestral tutti following the call of the Shofar (a traditional Hebrew trumpet), is overwhelming, and full of foreboding. (Incidentally, there's a small error in the booklet here; the shofar plays Eflat to C, not Cflat as stated). Similarly, there is no holding back for the massive affirmative conclusion of this great work.
If you don't know The Apostles, you are in for a treat; but don't expect another 'Gerontius'. This work is more expansive, more leisurely, without the same number of specific 'numbers', such as the Demons' chorus, or 'Praise to the Holiest' in Gerontius, or indeed 'The Sun Goeth Down' in The Kingdom. But it creates, at its own pace, a convincing and moving whole.
Elder's solo team are excellent; Rebecca Evans sings with the right balance of expressivesness and purity, and Alice Coote produces the most wonderful sounds as Mary Magdalene. I found Paul Groves' tenor as Narrator a little underpowered, though this may be a quirk of the recording balance - he is certainly very stylish. Jacques Imbroglio, in the baritone part of Jesus, has a slight tremor to his voice, which, however, once I was used to it, was no barrier to the appreciation of his deeply felt singing. And perhaps the most impressive of the lot is Brindley Sherratt, whose dark bass is perfect for the agonised solo of Judas - brilliant writing by Elgar, and one of the highlights of the work.
Hugely enjoyable listening - a worthy addition to Elder's (and the Halle's) already distinguished Elgarian recorded legacy.
on 17 June 2014
Though I've never been a huge Elgar fan, heard just a few bars of this on a typically expensive CD review episode on the radio one Saturday and duly purchased. Initially I was a little lukewarm on it I must confess - beautifully sung, and played, yes, but I wasn't so thrilled musically - "Standard English Choral" as it were. However, on each listen it's grown on me, with some highlights being some very moving episodes - perhaps akin to "Negro Spiritual" style of singing and rhythm. . Whether these are Elgar's intention, co-incidence, or Mark Elder's spin on it, I can't say - but it certainly works. Not as spectacular as something like Belshazzar - a(nother) favourite of mine, but this is wonderful in its more subtle way, and it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better. Another big plus for me are the soloists - they sing so beautifully, rather than the warbly operatic style I find unbearable. Above all there's a wonderful sense of pace - especially in the slower passages. To play or sing very slowly whilst keeping up a relentless momentum or pace is no small thing, and done badly can kill any performance - superbly done here. Can't not give this 5 starts - a great buy !
on 5 March 2015
Great stuff. Superb interpretation, well played and sung. If you like this work, go for it - I doubt you will be disappointed. Personally, I would buy this before the Boult version, which I've had on LP (and then CD) since it first came out.
on 13 September 2012
Elgar's The Apostles has never quite enjoyed the same renown as The Dream of Gerontius or The Kingdom. Composed as the first part of a putative trilogy, it was only when Elgar reached The Kingdom that Elgar had honed the skill of retelling passages from the Gospel. Sadly, Elgar never completed The Last Judgement. Yet despite its shortcomings, The Apostles has gained muscular new disciples in Mark Elder and the Hallé. Their fresh recording, captured live at Bridgwater Hall in May, makes the best case for the piece so far.
Where The Kingdom has unity, The Apostles is more disparate with its hazy opening and lust for local colour - including glittering depictions of dawn and Straussian pieces of silver. Depicting Christ's last days before the Crucifixion, as well as the Ascension, the work is a series of separate panels rather than one connected fresco cycle. But as in The Kingdom, Elgar focusses on the human aspects of the story, with Mary Magdalene and Judas's confessions at its heart.
Elder imbues these evolving tales with the same heft that characterised his thrilling Gerontius and Kingdom. Alice Coote is a rich and rare Mary and Brindley Sherratt offers a particularly dark night of the soul as Judas. Jacques Imbrailo's Christ is disarmingly seraphic when heard against their torrid monologues, while chorally this is also another superb performance (outstripping the London Philharmonic Choir on Boult's 1974 EMI recording). Despite limited time, chorus masters Frances Cooke and Richard Wilberforce muster a well drilled choir for the dazzling climaxes in Caesarea Philippi and at the Ascension. And, as with his superb soloists, Elder obtains great tenderness; the opening 'Spirit of the Lord' is particularly tingling.
Without all the bastardised pomp and politics of organised religion, Elgar captures the human frailty and otherworldly glory at the heart of these extraordinary stories. Gifted a binding force in Elder and the Hallé, who play just as superbly as on previous Elgar releases, The Apostles shines.