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This review is from: Edward Elgar The Apostles Op.49 (Recorded Live) (Audio CD)
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.