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.