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 23 September 2012
This disc very deservedly has been flying off the shop shelves. Elder and Halle brought this work to The 2012 BBC Proms to great acclaim. This live recording a few weeks earlier in May has a similar line up of soloists. The spell-bound audience are as quiet as mice. There are good notes, full libretto in English. You can certainly purchase without hesitation.
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 23 April 2014
Top class soloists and the whole piece was beautifully interpreted by Sir Mark Elder and this fine orchestra and chorus. Particularly moving portrayal of Judas by Brindley Sherratt, who's deep mellifluous tones, so eloquently evoked the agony he felt after his betrayal of an innocent man.
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 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.
on 15 March 2016
A truly amazing performance of this often neglected masterpiece. It kept me spellbound for the full the two hours. Sir Mark Elder has done a brilliant job in bringing out this fresh interpretation, enabling us to discover the true magnificence of Elgar's work.
on 2 March 2014
I have only ever listened to the 1970s EMI Boult recording as this seemed perfect. The work is outstanding, operatic and crafted with such delicacy. So when I saw a Gramphone review saying this was better than Boult I had to buy this. It is certainly great and the recording (which is live) is modern and allows you to hear things more clearly (like the percussion). I don't know if I will ever give up the Boult but if you admire this piece of music you really should own a copy of this recording.
on 4 October 2012
Insofar as Elgar was a late developer we can say that The Apostles was an early work, though he began writing it when he was 42 years old, in 1900. The work was then abandoned whilst he wrote The Dream of Gerontius, where he used some of the original Apostles music, and then picked up again on The Apostles in time for its first appearance, which he conducted in Birmingham in 1903. The great success of Gerontius (to a text by Cardinal Newman), despite a fairly disastrous first performance, did not, however, carry over to The Apostles (using a text derived by Elgar mainly from biblical extracts) and Elgar's hope for a three-work trilogy (The Apostles, The Kingdom and The Last Judgement) foundered after he had completed The Kingdom. In time The Apostles fell somewhat from grace and the excellent writer of the splendid programme notes for this new recording (no less than Elgar biographer Michael Kennedy) is of the opinion that this performance, recorded live from the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester in May 2012, is the first to have benefited from the conductor Mark Elder's study of Elgar's interpretation intentions used when the composer conducted the work himself at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford cathedral in 1921.
This complete two-cd recording, made on the Hallé label, reveals both Elder's study and interpretation of the composer's music and the excellent quality of performance by both the Hallé and Hallé Youth choirs and the very much enlarged Hallé orchestral forces; for this work Elgar used one of his largest orchestral forces and Mark Elder took the trouble to find a shofar (an ancient Jewish ram's horn instrument) player to call the Apostles together near the beginning of the work and again elsewhere.
Although previous recordings of The Apostles have been made, principally by Boult and by Hickox, Elgar and oratorio aficionados will not want to be without these discs.