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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Part Songs

There is Sweet Music [4:45]; Deep in my Soul [4:07]; O Wild West Wind [3:30]; Owls [An Epitaph] [3:17]; As Torrents in Summer [2:18]; The Prince of Sleep [4:55]; The Shower [2:39]; The Fountain [3:36]; My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land [4:31]; Death on the Hills [4:07]; Love’s Tempest [3:01]; Serenade [2:03]; Evening Scene [3:33]; Go, Song of Mine [4:56]; Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands: The Dance [4:03]; False Love [3:55]; Lullaby [3:33]; Aspiration [3:02]; On the Alm [3:44]; The Marksmen [6:06]
Cambridge University Chamber Choir/Christopher Robinson
Ian Farrington (piano)
rec. Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge, 29-30 July 2007
Texts in English included
NAXOS 8.570541 [75:42] 
Experience Classicsonline

Christopher Robinson follows up his well reviewed Naxos disc of Elgar’s sacred choral music, made with the Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge, with this present collection of part-songs – or ‘choral songs’ as Elgar preferred to call them.

Many of them are little gems, containing some of his finest music. Indeed, a select few are outright masterpieces, so it’s quite bewildering that full discs of them are quite rare. In fact, the only alternative to this new Naxos disc I can bring to mind is the Finzi Singers’ selection under Paul Spicer on Chandos. That only duplicates about two-thirds of the Naxos, so buyers could quite happily have both, as the performances are subtly different. 

Robinson this time opts to use the Cambridge University Chamber Choir, a mixed group made up largely from the graduate and undergraduate communities of the University. This ensures a fresh, youthful tone, less mature sounding than Spicer’s choir but no less full bodied. It may not be every listener’s ideal, but to my ears there’s a nice balance and pleasing sonority that serves the pieces well. 

Lovers of Elgar will know quite a few of the songs, especially if they are involved in their local choral society. There are the much loved favourites: There is Sweet Music, which flirts with bi-tonality, and the early My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land, which some critics rather dismissed but which Michael Hurd appositely referred to as ‘…magnificently grand and passionate – as if Parry had suddenly been released from gentlemanly reticence’. As Torrents in Summer is another festival regular and, like the rest of this well programmed collection, is given a beautifully unmannered rendition by Robinson and his disciplined choir. 

Of the perhaps less well known songs, I love the strange chromatic side-stepping in Owls (An Epitaph), which gives a hint of exotic Wagnerian colouring. Michael Kennedy, writing the liner note to Spicer’s recording, baldly states that Go, Song of Mine is Elgar’s greatest song for unaccompanied choir. Whether you agree or not, there’s no denying its power and range, which in places anticipate the Violin Concerto and Second Symphony. Robinson gives a deeply affecting reading, not afraid to let the music speak for itself and let the choir enjoy singing it. 

Where this Naxos disc really parts company with other collections is the inclusion of the Scenes from Bavarian Highlands in their original settings with piano accompaniment. They are extremely fine settings, especially On the Alm and Aspiration, and remind one that these are rather better than we remembered. 

This really is a very fine disc, expertly recorded in Jesus College Chapel and with an informative liner note from Geoffrey Hodgkins. You may well have odd songs on miscellaneous compilations – as in the famous Cambridge Singers/John Rutter disc on Collegium – but for such a modest outlay there are many miniature treasures here, all sung with a disarming simplicity and freshness that suits them perfectly.

Tony Haywood


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