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