It could be said that Elgar’s deepest beliefs were in the infallibility of the British Empire and of The Pope, but this would be a gross over simplification. Elgar’s passions ran much deeper, and like Anton Bruckner who shared Elgar’s vision of a Catholic Heaven, a closer analysis of many works supposedly infused with religious passion reveals that they were in fact sublimations of very different passions indeed. I do not share the faith of either great man, indeed my only faith being in Sod’s Law, but I can readily “buy into” the myth when confronted with great outpourings such as this work.
So much of music and other art forms require suspension of belief-or disbelief-as a prerequisite to enjoyment and I usually have no problem with this, but I have to confess (ha!) that the overheated text of Cardinal Newman’s turgid epic invokes the wrong reaction in me, and the 2 stanzas that sum up my view of it are headed “I fell asleep..” and “Take me away!” Of course, a similar situation applies to O’Shaugnessy’s poem “The Music Makers” whose text is, shall we say, at times cringe inducing –but both prose works are transformed by the breath of inspiration that is wafted over them by Elgar. I hope no-one takes offence at my flippant remarks, but if so I can only make it up to them by saying that this new recording almost makes a convert of me!
Recordings by Barbirolli and Boult have rightly held the pre-eminent position in terms of recommendation, and I have a great liking for the Hickox LSO Chandos recording, but this new version is something really special.
It is beautifully presented as a very personal tribute by this great orchestra to their Conductor Laureate with a lavishly illustrated booklet full of colour plates, extensive background essays about the work, interviews with the late Sir Colin and personal tributes from The Orchestra President and Christian Thielemann its current Music Director.
The live performance from 2010 is caught in glowingly rich sound, with a very wide dynamic and fully detailed perspective. Balance is perfect.
Sir Colin as ever with Elgar takes a thrusting view of Elgar’s music, never allowing it to become lugubrious, but with passion and intensity exactly where and when needed. The great orchestral crescendos thunder out with grandeur-and with this orchestra never a hint of vulgarity. The playing is exquisite-just glorious-and Sir Colin remarks in the notes that he conducted so much of his music with them over the years that the local press dubbed them the “Elgar Orchestra.” Glowing strings, mellow brass-the perfect Elgar sound picture.
The soloists are first rate. I really like the open throated timbre of American tenor Paul Groves who captures the English Tradition without the pinched nasal tone that so often results and his accent free perfect diction is enunciated beautifully.
John Relyea demonstrates perfect baritonal control and delivers a stirring and noble account of his part. The ubiquitous Sara Connolly lacks the tonal heft of Dame Janet or my own beloved Felicity Palmer, but her golden tones and secure pitch are ideal for this work, and as ever, she does not disappoint. Finally, the chorus is as if from a dream-a dream of perfection rarely achieved! Perfect diction, beauty, richness and depth characterize their contribution.
If Sir Colin had never recorded anything else in his long career, we would think him a Titan among conductors from this performance.
It is expensive, as the 2 discs offer no “filler”-but frankly anything else would be bathos after this performance. Profoundly moving and exalted music making of a rare quality combine to make this automatic first choice. Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe.
There are some beautiful sounds her from the Dresden Staatskapelle and some excellent solo singing. However ultimately for me Colin Davis does not seem as involved as either Boult or Barbirolli who in their very different ways convey much more of the drama and emotions of this work in their performances.