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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Organ Sonata No. 1 in G *
Sacred Music†:

Ave verum corpus
Ave Maria
Ave maris stella
Vesper Voluntaries: Introduction and Andante ††
Angelus
Give Unto the Lord (Psalm 29)
O Hearken Thou
Te Deum and Benedictus

* Herbert Sumsion at the organ of Gloucester Cathedral
Choir of Worcester Cathedral (Harry Bramma – organ)
Christopher Robinson (conductor and †† organ)
(* recorded Gloucester Cathedral 4-6 January 1965;
† recorded Worcester Cathedral 6-8 March 1969
Recording produced by Brian B. Culverhouse‡)
EMI CDM 5 65594 2 [76:10]


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This is not a new release. I had intended to use as it as a comparator in my recent review of the recording of the new John Butt recording of the complete Elgar Organ Works on Harmonia Mundi 907281.

Both albums included performances of Elgar’s large scale First Organ Sonata (1892). Herbert Sumsion, whose long life spanned the years 1899 to 1995, was appointed organist at Gloucester Cathedral in 1928. After he had conducted at The Three Choirs Festival for the first time, Elgar acknowledged his success with the pun, "what at the beginning of the week was an assumption is now a certainty." It is therefore of great interest to Elgarians to hear this reading by a renowned organist whose artistry would have been known to the composer. Sumsion’s reading has clarity through the work’s highly contrapuntal passages and his vision is fulsome and powerful in the sweeping nobilmente ceremonial sections and sensitive in more quietly lyrical and contemplative parts. Very usefully, a full page of the booklet notes is devoted to the specification of the Gloucester Cathedral organ.

However, the bulk of the album’s music was recorded in Worcester Cathedral, again highly appropriate considering Elgar’s strong associations with that cathedral city. Towards the end of 1885 Elgar was appointed organist at St George’s, Worcester’s Roman Catholic Church. The first three items, the three Aves, were early melodic compositions for this church. The Ave verum corpus, probably the best known, was originally a Pie Jesu written in memory of W. A. Allen, the local solicitor in whose office Elgar first worked before choosing to concentrate on music. Of his Ave verum corpus, Elgar commented, "too sugary" but "nice and harmless". The two excerpts from Elgar’s Vesper Voluntaries for organ, composed in Upper Norwood, South London, shortly after his wedding, contrast processional grandeur with a Schumann-like Andante.

The evocative Angelus was inspired by his impressions at Careggi, near Florence where the Elgars were on holiday in 1909. The Te Deum and Benedictus (1897), and Give Unto the Lord (1914), are both written in Elgar’s bold romantic tradition, stirring heart and spirit; such passages complemented by others of gentle contemplation. The solemn devotional music that is O Hearken Thou, was sung in Westminster Abbey at the coronation of George V, in 1911, during the presentation by the King, of bread and wine for the Communion.

An inspiring album of an aspect of Elgar’s musical output that is not so well known, impeccably performed. [‡By the way, the name Brian C. Culverhouse as producer at this period was a guarantee of quality.]

Ian Lace

 


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