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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Coronation Te Deum [10:33]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Sea Pictures [22:37]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)

November Woods [19:44]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra [16:48]
Catherine Wyn-Rogers, mezzo soprano
Choristers of Winchester Cathedral
Winchester College Quiristers
Members of the Eton College Chapel Choir
BBC Singers
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
Recorded 30 July 2003 at the Royal Albert Hall, London in the presence of HM The Queen. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61550-2 [69:42]


In another of their series of live concert recordings from the 2003 Henry Wood Promenade concerts, Warner give us another mixed bag of hit and miss performances, in close, boxy sound that could rival the old Columbia record label in its heyday.

If Her Majesty was hoping to wax nostalgic about her coronation with this performance of the Walton Te Deum (written for the 1937 Coronation; not the one in 1953) she was certain to have left the hall disappointed. The choir nearly barks out the text with the orchestra playing with no subtlety whatsoever. There is nothing refined about the singing with practically no contrast in dynamics and no focus or clarity to the choral tone. In short, this is a shouted, ugly performance that belies a cavalier attitude toward works with chorus. It is as if Andrew Davis was required to perform this piece and would have rather been on the golf course.

Edward Elgar is represented by his devoutly beautiful Sea Pictures, at one time practically the sole property of Dame Janet Baker and Sir John Barbirolli. This performance is perhaps the highlight of the entire program, with Catherine Wyn-Rogers rich and expressive mezzo-soprano carrying loftily over the orchestra. Her careful attention to the texts makes for a very moving performance indeed.

Arnold Bax, a composer who has thankfully in recent years become recognized for the fine artist he was comes in next with the tone poem November Woods. This rhapsodic work has a checkered history, having been inspired by an incident when the composer was caught in the rain returning home after visiting his extra-marital lover. Despite its rather shady origins, this is a work of exciting sweep and grandeur and is given a fine, energetic performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Andrew Davis captures all of the scenery of the woods during a storm and there is some fine solo playing by the principal clarinetist and the concertmaster.

One of Benjamin Britten’s early assignments was with the British government’s Crown Film Unit, and his masterful set of variations of a march of Henry Purcell, better known as the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, began life as the soundtrack to an educational film. Still a splendid concert piece, the work takes us on a walking tour of the sections of the symphony orchestra, and is at times performed with narration, although not here. This performance is a little on the raucous side, but nonetheless effective.

This disc, despite some really rather strong performances rises only to the level of ‘acceptable alternative’ or ‘good document of what must have been a nice concert.’ This is due mostly in part to the rather flat, boxy sound quality of the recordings. Perhaps the Albert Hall is not the ideal venue to record music, or perhaps the recording is just a one-off and was carried out rather carelessly. Whatever the reason, the results are detrimental to the final product.

Kevin Sutton

Jonathan Wearn comments

I was very sad to read the review of the Elgar Prom and KS refferring to the perceived box like acoustic. I have recorded there many times and it has a wonderful recording acoustic if approached properly.

The problem at the Royal Albert Hall, the Barbican and the RFH, is the common and misguided opinion the BBC and others seem to hold that you have to fill the hall with dozens of cardioid microphones to record any orchestral music..... It is a false view not backed by good science.

To achieve that all important 3rd dimension in live recordings three Omnis is all that is needed to achieve a wondrous result. Audience noise adds to the realism of a live concert -

The balance has to be the conductor's responsibility not some arrogant engineer or producer in a multi track booth with all to little knowledge about orchestral music.

Many years ago Thomas Frost (director of CBS Masterworks for 19 years) switched from using multi-miked productions to just three in spaced array and the results quickly told...... He followed the Mercury Living Presence principle with Telarc and Dorian hot on their heels - Sadly, in England we appear not to have learned this lesson. But then, we always seem to fall behind in just about everything....

Sad really.... but a sign of the times.



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