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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
National Anthem (arr. Elgar)
Coronation Ode

Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Alfreda Hodgson (contralto),
Richard Morton (tenor); Stephen Roberts (bass)
Cambridge University Musical Society
Choir of Kings College Cambridge
Band of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall/Sir Philip Ledger
rec. Chapel of Kings College, Cambridge, February 1977
The Spirit of England

O Hearken Thou (offertory)
Dame Felicity Lott (soprano)
London Symphony Chorus and Northern Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
Rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, October 1987
National Anthem (arr. Elgar)
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
I Was Glad

Cambridge University Musical Society
Choir of Kings College Cambridge
Band of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall/Sir Philip Ledger
Rec. Chapel of Kings College, Cambridge, February 1977
EMI CLASSICS 5 85148 2 [74:21]



How well I remember hearing Elgar’s Coronation Ode for the first time when EMI released this recording way back in 1977. I remember so well the terrific hair-raising sensation created by ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ in this setting and how the magnificent Kneller Hall brass seemed to reach right out of the speakers. I defy anybody to deny that this setting cannot likewise move them. If I was to choose my favourite tingle-factor pieces then this would have to figure highly on the list. Why this movement/this work does not figure more often in last night Prom concerts is a mystery to me. The Coronation Ode was written for a gala concert on the eve of Edward VII’s coronation fixed for 26 June 1902. The King himself, like thousands of his subjects, had been thrilled by Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 and had suggested to the composer that words should be fitted to its tune. Eventually Land of Hope and Glory, as we know it now, was evolved from this Coronation Ode setting. The other patriotic movements are in sympathy with the age and should be accepted in that spirit. They are entitled: ‘Crown the King’, ‘The Queen’; ‘Hark upon the Hallowed Air…’; ‘Peace, gentle Peace…’; ‘Daughter of Ancient Kings’; and ‘Britain, ask of thyself’. All the soloists acquit themselves very well and this performance wins hands down over the rival Chandos version.

On the other hand I prefer the Chandos version of Elgar’s Spirit of England (with the Coronation Ode on Chandos CHAN 8430). Soprano, Teresa Cahill has that much more gravitas and the Chandos sound is stunning. The Spirit of England has been described by Jerrold Northrop Moore, Elgar’s biographer, as the composer’s ‘sleeper’, an opinion I concur with wholeheartedly. This is an Elgar patriotic work written in the darkest days of World War I. It comprises settings of war verses by Laurence Binyon, and is cast in three movements: ‘The Fourth of August’; ‘To Women’ and ‘For the Fallen’. The last section, composed first in 1915, is by far the best known and was for many years performed around Armistice Day. It is a most moving valediction, especially Elgar’s setting of those words: "They shall not grow old. As we that are left grow old …At the going down of the sun and in the Morning, We will remember them"; and of the beautiful final verse – "As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain, As the stars that are starry in time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain."

Parry’s I was glad must be one of the finest pieces of ceremonial music ever written and another tingle factor candidate. It was composed for the coronation of Edward VII. The ambience of the Chapel of Kings College Cambridge and Ledger’s forces give this performance a tremendous impact.

Rounding off the programme is Elgar’s stirring arrangement of the National Anthem and Elgar’s sublime Offertory, O hearken thou.

Grand ceremonial music that touches heart and spirit.

Ian Lace

 

From the Bulletin Board

I've read Ian Lace's review of this EMI Classics resissue with great interest. I wholeheartedly agree with his enthusiasm for Spirit of England in particular. Having had the good fortune to sing in a number of performances of it (including three in the last few weeks) I've no hesitation in regarding it as top-drawer Elgar.
However, I'm not so sure I agree with him that the rival Chandos performance of this work is the best (it's recently been reissued at budget price on CHAN 6574; the coupling is the Coronation Ode.) I've been familiar with this recording, conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson, since it first came out on LP. The Chandos sound is atmospheric and not an obvious studio production in the way that the Hickox account is (Gibson was recorded in Paisley Abbey) but listeners should be warned that the Paisley acoustic is very resonant. To some extent the resonance has been tamed on this latest CD issue and more detail than ever before is audible. Nonetheless, the EMI sound is more sharply focused

However, two other factors make me strongly prefer Hickox to Gibson. Firstly, some of Gibson's tempi are extremely broad (he takes 30'32" for the piece, Hickox requires 27'04" without ever souinding rushed). At one or two points the music nearly becomes becalmed in Gibson's hands. I don't think the broad tempi are dictated by the acoustic for the tempi in Coronation Ode, recorded in the same venue, are fine.

The other serious problem I have with the Gibson recording, I'm afraid, is the singing of Teresa Cahill. She sings with a very wide vibrato indeed and this means that, to my ears at least, not every note is hit truly in the centre. Additionally, her diction is far from clear. Dame Felicity Lott, for Hickox, is much to be prefered on both counts.

I'd advise potential purchasers to sample both versions of Spirit of England before committing. As Ian says, the Ledger performance of the Coronation Ode is very fine. Finally you get more music for your money with EMI. But how nice to have a choice!

John Quinn



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