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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Edward ELGAR (1862-1934)
Sea Pictures

Symphony No. 2
Bernadette Greevy (contralto)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley
Recorded at Watford Town Hall on 4 and 5 February 1981
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 7243 5 75306 2 0 [79’02"]

 


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This is a glorious recording in many ways. Greevy is in wonderful voice, no mezzo-soprano in the mould of Janet Baker but a true contralto (but again no Clara Butt, for whom the song cycle was written). Hers is a warm, creamy-toned voice, close-miked with the LPO hanging on every word and accompanying most sensitively. Handley takes slow tempi for ‘Sea Slumber Song’ and ‘In Haven’, the others are more traditional. String style is distinctly Elgarian, some may say old-fashioned, and he has obviously encouraged Greevy to use much expressive portamento at every opportunity. Only occasionally does the top of her voice get pushed (especially on ‘e’ vowels) by the luscious and blazing textures of the orchestra at forgivable climaxes, such as at the end of ‘Sabbath Morning at Sea’. There are times where Handley has too tight a hand on the rein in ‘Where corals lie’ and it begins to plod in places, but ‘The Swimmer’ more than makes up for it in terms of tempi and glorious climaxes.

In this last song Handley uses the optional organ part written by Elgar (recorded separately by David Bell in St Augustine’s Church, Kilburn and dubbed in afterwards), and he has the chance to repeat the exercise where the composer was alleged by Boult to have done the same in the finale of the second symphony which makes up the rest of this fine disc. There is no indication in the score but Boult said (in 1947 to an audience at the Royal College of Organists, and something that they would have loved to hear) that Elgar ‘would add 32 or 64 foot organ pedal for eight bars if it was available’. It may be there but it is not that obvious. What is more to the point is Handley’s literal interpretation of the tempo marking for this finale, at moderato e maestoso it is always hard to bring off, and most conductors do not have the courage or the ability to sustain the very steady tempo. It works here, and does so after three movements that certainly do not hang around in terms of their tempi, even the solemnly lugubrious funeral march which allegedly represents the passing of the Edwardian era after the death of the King in 1911. This disc has sustained the passing of time, two decades ago it was acclaimed and can still be judged in glowing terms.

Christopher Fifield

 

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