- Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
- Composer: Sir Edward Elgar
- Audio CD (29 Oct. 2012)
- Please Note: Requires SACD-compatible hardware
- Number of Discs: 2
- Format: Double CD, Hybrid SACD, SACD
- Label: Chandos
- ASIN: B009IF123W
- Other Editions: Audio CD | MP3 Download
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 175,804 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Elgar: The Starlight Express (The Starlight Express) (Elin Manahan Thomas; Roderick Williams; Simon Callow; Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Sir Andrew Davis) (Chandos: CHSA 5111(2)) Double CD, Hybrid SACD, SACD
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Elgar: Starlight Express, Op. 78
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SUPER AUDIO CD IN SURROUND SOUND
The Starlight Express was adapted from a book by Algernon Blackwood, A Prisoner in Fairyland, for a theatre production in the West End during the First World War, with music by Sir Edward Elgar. Combining the usually contrasting elements of fairytale and melodrama, The Starlight Express depicts the fantasy world inhabited by a group of children, who possess a magical starlight quality that has been lost by the adults around them. This is the most comprehensive recorded version of The Starlight Express to date, based on a new score prepared by the Elgar Edition, which has been adapted by the conductor Sir Andrew Davis.
Our recording includes, in place of the play, a detailed account of the story, penned by the conductor Sir Andrew Davis better to reflect the original book and our pattern of speech today. All the music, excepting the songs and interludes, was designed as melodrama, and in some cases it is meaningless on its own, explains Sir Andrew, continuing: I have therefore taken the bold step of writing a narrative which is based partly on the play and partly on A Prisoner in Fairyland.
Our narrator is the actor Simon Callow, known to an international audience for his roles in films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Shakespeare in Love. Callow was delighted to be approached, as he already knows and loves this music, having delivered the narrative in a specially recorded concert performance of the incidental music, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2007. The incidental music, complete with melodramatic passages which work in conjunction with the narrative, occupies all of Disc 1 and continues onto Disc 2. Then we have an extended suite of freestanding orchestral movements and songs.
As a bonus, we have included three songs which link directly to this work. When a staged version of Blackwoods book was first proposed, in 1914, another young composer, Clive Carey, was commissioned to compose the incidental music; but the outbreak of war forced the cancellation of the original production. When the plans were next revived, Elgar was approached, and he enthusiastically completed the score. However, Clive Carey had already composed three songs, but they were never included in the final production. They have been orchestrated by Sir Andrew Davis for this recording, and are heard here for the very first time.
Our recording of The Starlight Express is performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis with two internationally acclaimed soloists: the soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and baritone Roderick Williams.
In 1915 Elgar was asked to provide the music for a West End play for children, The Starlight Express, an adaptation of Algernon Blackwood's story A Prisoner in Fairyland. Elgar intended to recycle pieces from his Wand of Youth suites, but charmed by the story and encouraged by his deepening friendship with Blackwood, he found himself composing more and more original material as he went on. As Andrew Davis's performance of the complete score shows, there are moments of top-drawer, heart-stopping Elgar here, as well as more routine Edwardian numbers. This double disc offers a choice: the music can either be heard as a suite that Davis has arranged, or in the context of the winsome original story the play replaced with an avuncular narration by Simon Callow. The songs are delivered with just the right lightness of touch by soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and baritone Roderick Williams. *** --Guardian,25/10/12
IRR OUTSTANDING. This is an outstanding release and I recommend it with all possible enthusiasm. On a seasonal note, given that the last music we here in the Starlight Express Elgar's arrangement of The First Nowell,I d be hard to suggest a more poignant and delightful Christmas gift. --IRR,Nov'12
Davis secures absolutely first-rate results from the Scottish CO. Elin Manahan Thomas's light and silvery soprano could hardly be more suited to the parts of the laughter and Jane-Anne, while Roderick Williams is in glorious voice throughout. Everything has been captured by the microphones with ingratiating amplitude, bloom and glow. --Gramophone, Dec'12
During the first world war Elgar wrote a variety of music most of it now little known to stir the national spirit. One such project was The Starlight Express, a supernatural play for children based on Algernon Henry Blackwood s book A Prisoner in Fairyland. The play was a flop but Elgar's touching music, in nostalgic Wand of Youth vein, shows how inspired he was by Blackwood's ideas. He is on more solid ground on the second CD, comprising a 45-minute suite he has culled from the complete work. Both CDs feature the excellent baritone soloist Roderick Williams. *** --Financial Times, 07/12/12
Elgar's incidental music to Violet Pearn's 1915 play is lovingly restored by Sir Andrew Davis and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, with singers Elin Manahan Thomas and Roderick Williams. To replace Pearn's dialogue, Davis has crafted a narration based on Algernon Henry Blackwood's grittier original story, and has orchestrated three long-lost songs by Clive Carey. Elgar's score has an ageless freshness, and concludes with a handsome "The First Nowell". **** --Independent, 23/12/12
One of the Top 10 Classical CDs of 2012 --Sunday Times
Top customer reviews
This production is surely the best attempt yet to solve these problems. The play was considered tedious and overlong when it was first produced in 1915, though Elgar's music was praised, so the idea of cutting it down to a narrative which retains the flavour of the original without overburdening the music seems to me the only workable solution. Yes, the story and the language are dated, but I think Andrew Davis was much wiser to retain this than to try to modernise it. I do not believe that a modernised narrative would have worked at all.
The extended suite gives us nearly all the music as a concert work, and what delightful music it is!
This is surely the best attempt yet to bring the music out of the shadows and make the most of it. I for one am glad I bought it.
If you like Elgar this should be on your list!
Andrew Davis, a fine Elgarian, has devoted a lot of effort to this CD set. It consists of a performance of the full score, with a narrative, written by Davis and enounced by Simon Callow, followed by alternative settings of the three great baritone songs, and finally a suite of music from the score, arranged by Davis and featuring the same soloists.
I am afraid it is not worth the trouble. The score contains some lovely things, but the play is beyond hope, and the narrative is insufferable and very wordy. Davis's suite is all right, and not a bad idea, but is let down by the soloists in particular. The previous full recording of this score was made in 1976 by Vernon Handley and the LPO, and has excellent soloists - the great Valerie Masterson at the height of her powers, and the characterful baritone Derek Hammond-Stroud with his wonderful diction. On this set the soprano has a small, fluttery voice, and, although I usually admire Roderick Williams, here he is bland and too light of voice - he can't compete with Hammond-Stroud or any of the older generation of baritones who have recorded these fine songs, such as Frederick Harvey.
This is an expensive set by today's standards, but not one I would ever play again.