Elgasr Song CD reviewed


Where Corals Lie Sir Edward Elgar Sitkovetsky, Glynn Chandos 20236

First things first, with many congratulations on turning this release around so quickly, set down in spring, released in autumn – and recorded in the Yehudi Menuhin School, founded by the youthful young violinist who invigorated Elgar's final years.
The acoustic here is wonderful, but recorded balance between soprano Julia Sitkovetsky and pianist Christopher Glynn is not too satisfactory; the fault lies at the feet of the composer.
It was perhaps a mistake to begin with Sea Pictures, conceived so perfectly for voice and orchestra. Elgar's own piano version of this richly-textured song-cycle gives a thick prominence to the keyboard, clouding and indeed distancing vocal enunciation. Some of the piano contributions come over as grotesque, with unidiomatic octave tremolandi in the left hand. The orchestration is one of the redeeming features of this less-than-perfect work, but its removal here makes matters uncomfortable, not least for the heroic soprano; and we are more used to hearing the piece sung in mezzo-soprano registers.
Offerings conceived initially for voice and piano fare much better in this Journey through Songs by Sir Edward Elgar (I don't understand why we need the honorific spattering the editorial content, though Elgar would have loved it), emerging with spontaneity and freshness. Items from the Sieben Lieder (note the German at this aspiring stage in the composer's career) make telling points in these performances, such as the touching two-voice dialogue in A Song of Autumn, and the Rondel a poignant link across the centuries to Froissart, subject of Elgar's first great orchestral overture.
Sitkovetsky responds willingly to the declamatory soul-baring of The Torch, words by Pietro d'Alba (Peter the white rabbit, an Elgar alias), and Glynn handles well the spectacular piano introduction to the immediately subsequent The River. Pleading, with so many tempo changes in its short span, benefits from the soprano's unaffected simplicity of delivery, and The Muleteer's Serenade is a captivating example of Elgar's Spanish affinities.
The Self Banished is a fine example of the well-read Elgar's wide range of literary sources, and usually he landed on a winner, such as here with the 17th-century poet Edmund Waller, Elgar homing into him for this setting whilst still in his teens. Christopher Glynn negotiates the generous accompaniment with huge satisfaction.
But this is a bit of a problem with Elgar songs. The piano introductions are so fulsome, so "listen to me" instead of getting to the kernel of the text in question. This release reveals the many composers to whom Elgar turned for inspiration, Schubert. Schumann, Brahms, Strauss and several French contemporaries among them, but their introductions were concise, immediately mood-setting, unlike many of these overblown announcements.
We end with a return to transcriptions. In Moonlight is an effective enough word-setting of the viola solo "Canto Popolare" in the scintillating In the South Overture, When the Spring Comes Round is a dutifully heroic excerpt from Une voix dans le desert, composed early on in the Great War by Elgar to support the Belgian war effort, and Pansies takes us right back to the start of Elgar's career, and his composition of Salut d'Amour for his future wife Caroline Alice Roberts.
Julia Sitkovetsky and Christopher Glynn do their best in what is admittedly uneven, often unidiomatic material. Insert-notes are generally greatly informative, though no-one, not even in all my compendious library of Elgar books, can tell me who was "Yvonne", dedicatee of The Torch.
Christopher Morley

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