Elgar's Music makers CD review


ELGAR: Connolly / Staples / BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Davis (Chandos CHSA 5215) ***

Elgar wrote some great choral works but often showed execrable taste when choosing texts. The Spirit of England sets World War 1 poems by Lawrence Binyon. It's hard to believe that when Wilfred Owen was writing bitter diatribes against the horrors of the trenches Binyon was waffling about "doom and bale", "lance and sword" and death being "august and royal". Andrew Staples (tenor) and the excellent BBC chorus sing this codswallop with conviction but even Elgar's noble music can't redeem it. Alfred O'Shaughnessy's text for The Music Makers alternates between the naff ("deathless ditties") and a metaphysical Wagnerian description of composers as "World-losers and world-forsakers". It's Elgar's Heldenleben, filled with self-quotations from Enigma, Gerontius, Sea Pictures, both symphonies and the violin concerto – great music but better heard in its original context. Dame Sarah Connolly (mezzo) sings nobly and Sir Andrew Davis marshals his forces, captured in impressively wide-ranging sound, effectively.

Norman Stinchcombe

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