Elgar: The Crown of India (The Crown Of India) Double CD
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Chandos are delighted to present the first complete recording of the masque The Crown of India, performed here by Clare Shearer and Gerald Finley, with the BBC Philharmonic and Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. Completed by Anthony Payne in 2008 the work conveys all the pomp and pageantry with which Elgar is associated. The work is presented on 2 CDs. Disc 1 includes the entire masque with narration, whilst Disc 2 contains only the music and Marches. The set is sold at the price of one full price CD. This recording is also the first with Sir Andrew Davis, now signed exclusively to Chandos. Sir Andrew's fascination with Elgar goes deep, including taking the symphonies all over the world. He says of The Crown of India, 'He's [Payne] done a terrific job. This is from Elgar's mature period, the time of the Violin Concerto and Sospiri. There's a 'March of the Moguls' which is the only march I know in three time and an exquisite interlude with solo violin.' The elaborate pageant and theatrical presentation, The Crown of India was first staged in 1912 to celebrate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Delhi for their coronation as Emperor and Empress of India. Elgar wrote the music as his Op.66, with a libretto by Henry Hamilton. Sadly the score was only published in a piano-vocal version and the remaining orchestral parts were destroyed in the 1960s. In 2007 the Elgar Society set about a commission for Anthony Payne to complete the orchestration of the music, with the orchestral suite and marches. Sir Andrew Davis continues to be resident in Chicago, where he has been Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Lyric Opera Chicago since 2000. His association with Chandos will see him conduct the principal BBC orchestras as well as orchestras around the world.
Top Customer Reviews
Under the aegis of the Elgar Society, Anthony Payne has painstakingly re-orchestrated the entire score from the published piano reduction, and it proves to be far more impressive than many people perhaps imagined. The text, extolling the glories and benefits of the British Raj, is by Henry Hamilton: the listener will need to transport themselves back to the eve of the First World War when Britain's place in an increasingly uncertain world relied heavily upon the prestige and power of her Imperial acquisitions. Taken on these terms, and with the benefit of hindsight, there is a great deal of poignancy in the piece which comes across in this superb performance.
Sir Andrew Davis takes up the baton from Vernon Handley and Richard Hickox with this first assignment for Chandos, and directs orchestra, chorus and soloists (Clare Shearer and Gerald Finley) with immense assurance. The dialogue is spoken with impeccable clarity and a real sense of drama by Barbara Marten, Deborah McAndrew and Joanne Mitchell.
Chandos have clearly put a great deal of thought into this recording. The first disc presents the Masque in its entirity, dialogue and all.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This CD set will, of course, appeal to the Elgar completist. However, I think there is a lot contained in the set that merits exploration by those who merely admire Elgar's work.
The Crown of India was essentially hack work, based on an eminently forgettable libretto by a musical hall composer and writer. Elgar to his credit cut as much of the doggerel as possible, and provided several typically pleasant, even at times faintly stirring, orchestral interludes along with a few passages for soloists and chorus, all based on a pair of stage tableaux and intended for a basically music hall setting. Other than the pieces Elgar later included in the suite he made, orchestration for this disc was made by the eminent reconstructor Anthony Paine from the piano version, on the assumption that the orchestra used in the original version was larger than the ordinary music hall variety. While sounding relatively seamless with those parts originally orchestrated by Elgar himself and found in his suite, this of course creates the problem that much of what we are hearing is really an arranger's version and not the composer's. Given that the piano version did exist, though this too had not been made by Elgar, this presentation is at least more acceptable than some other `reconstructions' we have been offered lately of the composer's uncompleted work.
The highlight of the work, other than those pieces Elgar included in his suite, is unquestionably his Crown of England March, and one wonders why the composer left it out of his orchestral suite. As for the rest, there are hints of Elgar's more graceful light presentations; and some whimsical passages akin to his Falstaff composed just a year or so later - the entire work was composed in 1911, the year before his next to last, great choral work, The Music Makers (the wartime Spirit of England being the last); and some typical bombast reminiscent of his nevertheless entrancing `Land of Hope and Glory.' Alas, as has been said, and as is certainly understandable given its originations, the Crown of India hardly lived up in total to those lofty examples. The work is further marred by the female mezzo-soprano soloist, one Clare Shearer, whose voice often seems unconnected with the music and is horribly disfigured by a vibrato wobble throughout. Ms. Shearer may have had a stronger voice at one time, but how she could have been hired for this gig surpasses understanding - did she come that cheap? Frankly I can't understand why recording companies continue to hire the possessors of such anachronistic and by today's standards terribly marred voices, akin to employing a flutist who can only play trills or a pianist arpeggios. Are there not enough currently talented singers with stronger breathing techniques available?
The baritone, Gerald Finley, only adds emphasis to this serious flaw with a much more competent performance, matched by the Sheffield Philharmonic chorus. Andrew Davis gives his usual stolid conducting of the excellent BBC Philharmonic on this Chandos presentation, with the usual excellent Chandos sound recorded in 24 bit, though one would have greatly appreciated an SACD version as well. The other reviewers here have explained the inclusion of two different versions of the composition on this 2 disc for the price of one set, so I'll just include by saying that this current work is primarily recommended for the Elgar completist only.
I have, in other words, no idea why anyone would want to suffer through the whole work and its narrators. But the score Elgar provided is indeed colorful and inventive, and the suite consists of an excellent series of atmospheric, colorful and appealing impressions. That said, there is little unity or overall structure to the images; it is rather a work that should be enjoyed as a series of independent miniatures with lots of individual charm and appeal. The Crown of India suite may as such not be first-rate Elgar, but if you like Elgar at all you really should give it a try. As fillers, we get three of his marches; the Imperial March is a ceremonial piece of light music, but the Coronation March is a much more serious and striking work, surprisingly variegated in terms of color, mood and atmosphere. The Empire March is a late work and not one of his greatest, but it is enjoyable enough.
In sum, this is a very worthwhile program – although the complete Crown of India can safely be dismissed, the second disc containing the suite and the marches is very fine (and the set comes for the price of a single disc). I am, however, not completely convinced by the performance. Sure, the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and BBC Philharmonic under Andrew Davis play very well; the textures are wonderfully realized and there is plenty of color and sensitivity. The more reflective movements are accordingly beautifully done, but I also feel that there is too little energy and momentum in the faster pieces. This becomes particularly obvious in the marches, which lack swagger and energy. The sound, though, is excellent. In the end I really don’t want to come across as too negative – this is, indeed, a very worthwhile release, but I am not convinced it is a mandatory acquisition.