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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Piano Concerto (sketches, drafts and recordings of his Piano Concerto realised for performance by Robert Walker) [36:40] (I. (Andante piacevole) – Nobilmente e semplice [18:15]; II. Poco Andante con rubato [6:23]; III. (Solenne quasi recitativo) – Allegro ma non troppo Vivace [12:02])
Suite of Four Edward Elgar Songs (transcribed for orchestra by Haydn Wood) [10:37]
I. Rondel [1:28]; II. Queen Mary’s Song [3:00]; III. The Shepherd’s Song [2:48]; IV. Like to the Damask Rose [3:21]
Adieu (orch: Henry Geehl) [2:38]
So Many True Princesses (orch: Anthony Payne) ‡ [6:13]
Spanish Serenade, op. 23 ‡ [4:22]
The Immortal Legions (from ‘Pageant of Empire’) ‡ [4:00]
Anthony COLLINS (1893-1963)

Elegy in Memory of Edward Elgar [10:00]
David Owen Norris (piano) †
BBC Singers ‡
BBC Concert Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
world premiere recordings (except Suite of Four Songs, premiere stereo recordings; Collins). In association with BBC Radio 3, BBC Concert Orchestra, Elgar Society
Recorded: Studio 1, Abbey Road, London, 18 and 19 October 2004. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7148 [74:40]


Dedicated Elgarians will find this irresistible. In fact it really doesn’t matter what any critic writes they will have to have this CD. Some purists may object to another reanimation but most will find the prospect of discovering another major ‘Elgar work’ irresistible.

What is on offer? Here are 64 minutes of Elgar’s music. I say ‘Elgar’s music’ but in the case of most of this material other creative hands have arranged, orchestrated, completed or realised Elgar’s own material. In addition there is a ten minute Elgar memorial piece by composer-conductor Anthony Collins. The Elgar material includes a 37 minute and three movement piano concerto, four Elgar songs arranged as a suite for orchestra alone, three choral-orchestral pieces and one late piano piece in an orchestration by someone else but approved by the composer.

The Piano Concerto was started by Elgar in 1913. He was sketching it in parallel with his work on the Third Symphony right up to the end in 1934. The middle movement is the only part of the concerto to have been completed. Elgar gave it to Harriet Cohen in two-piano short score and Percy Young orchestrated it for piano and strings in 1956 for a performance given by Ms Cohen. Later he expanded this to a full orchestration and it was in this guise that it was recorded by Margaret Fingerhut for the ClassicO label with Douglas Bostock.

The Concerto begins in the blackest of majestic moods - extremely impressive and captured here with craggy mastery. Despite the piacevole marking this movement strikes me as music by a composer who knows that seraphic peace is fragile and who keeps a wary eye on catastrophe. The music has plenty of Elgarian atmosphere and familiarity of gesture. The shadow of both symphonies - more the Second than the First - passes across these pages. However there are elements of ‘otherness’ too: from Rachmaninov 2 (rather like the Stanford Second Piano Concerto), from Grieg and from both Brahms piano concertos - especially the strenuous First. Both the big first movement and the finale manage to be, at one and the same time, heroic, ominous, tragic, virtuosic. They project a sense of striving against adversity. The mood in the second movement is almost frivolous - more like light Grieg. Think also in terms of the famous Litolff scherzo, the Albeniz Piano Concerto or one of Saint-Saëns’ decorative movements. The other work it recalls somewhat is Bax’s Morning Song: Springtime in Sussex for piano and orchestra; another Harriet Cohen and Margaret Fingerhut speciality.

Listening to the Piano Concerto impressions flood in. The sound of the piano is grand indeed - testimony to the pianist, to the engineers and the instrument. If the strings of the BBC Concert Orchestra are not as rapturously ‘fat’ as they might be the crackling, blaze and bark of the brass desks impresses.

Norris’s Elgar credentials are already acknowledged. It was not all that long ago that the site reviewed his CD of the Elgar piano music; the first of a series. By coincidence that disc includes a new recording, recreated by David Owen Norris, of the five piano improvisations which Elgar recorded for HMV in 1929. The composer’s waxes were issued for the first time in 1979 on LP (EMI RLS 713). Those Improvisations are said by Robert Matthew-Walker and David Owen Norris to be linked to Elgar’s Piano Concerto project. Material from them has been used in the realisation of this concerto. See review at: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2003/Aug03/Elgar_Norris.htm

The Piano Concerto has some grand and memorable moments but after about half a dozen hearings I feel that it is not totally satisfactory. It lacks a completely resolved sense of inevitability. Its moods are very grown-up and dark in the flanking movements but the gear-change from the insouciance of the poco andante to the ‘sturm und drang’ of the outer movements is disconcerting. Themes hook themselves into the memory but does everything cohere? At this early stage I have my doubts. These are early days so what matters most is that I found myself wanting to go back to try the concerto again and again without having to rely on the compulsion of reviewer’s duty.

This is a fascinating project and is well worth your hard-pressed listening time. Thanks go to Robert Walker, David Owen Norris and Robert Matthew-Walker for bringing the score to its present state. It has continued to evolve with every performance since its first outing in 1997 at Dartington. Perhaps there will be further changes still.

The Suite of Four Elgar Songs transcribed for orchestra alone was done by Haydn Wood. It is a polished and smoothly graceful job even if the effect without the voice part is of a certain calming blandness. Overall this is gently Elgarian with hybrid voices from Massenet and from Frank Bridge’s light orchestral genre pieces. The much later Adieu is in much the same mood pattern. Here Henry Geehl did the orchestrational honours from a slight but affecting orchestral miniature.

Then follow three pieces for chorus and orchestra. The gem here is the ravishingly lilting and indelibly memorable Spanish Serenade. The tambourine provides exotic atmosphere in this truly lovely troubadour song. It is a perfect piece which, incongruously for its Iberian claims, taps into the perpetual Nordic summer-nights and Brahms’ vocal ensemble Volkslieder; all done with Mendelssohnian delicacy. Other echoes include Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and Bantock’s Omar Khayyam - especially the Summer Dresses movement. It would be a natural for repeat playings on Classic FM. Anthony Payne, who famously realised the Elgar Third Symphony, lends orchestral wings to So Many True Princesses. This was written for chorus and military band for an outdoor event in 1932. Payne does his very considerable best for this piece which has more than a touch of bluster about it.

There is no direct competition although this anthology of rarities complements several other Elgar collections: Bostock and the Munich Symphony Orchestra’s The Crown of India March; Hail Immemorial Ind from The Crown of India; The Wind at Dawn; Empire March; A Voice in the Desert; Polonia; Piano Concerto (slow movement); Spanish Lady suite; Civic Fanfare - Hereford on ClassicO CLASSCD334.

There is also the collection of wartime music on Pearl SHE CD 9602 (Barry Collett and Rutland Sinfonia). If you bought Lewis Foreman’s book: ‘Oh my horses! Elgar and the great war’ Elgar Editions ISBN 9537082 3 3 you will have a CD that came with the book. This includes Carillon (Henry Ainley, SO, composer); Fringes of the Fleet (Mott, Henry, Stewart, Barratt, SO, Elgar); Carillon (Alvar Liddell, Kensington SO/Leslie Head), Hail Immemorial Ind (Carol Leatherby, KSO/Head); Immortal Legions; Song of Union (Anthony Ransome, KSO and choir, Head); Bliss Spring Offensive (Basil Maine); Stanford Farewell (Peter Dawson); Cowen We Sweep the Seas (Harry Dearth); Paul Rubens Your King and Country Want You (Maggie Teyte).

The new Dutton recordings are very fine. There is transparency in the more delicate moments and a fine pesante impact for the big choral contributions as in the far from subtle So Many True Princesses. None of these alternative CDs is an identical or even close match in repertoire however, where there are overlaps, I would prefer the Dutton disc.

Finally comes Collins’ Elegy in Memory of Edward Elgar. Anthony Vincent Benedictus Collins was born in Hastings on 3 March 1893 and died in Los Angeles on 11 December 1963. As a teenager he mastered the viola and became principal viola initially (1910) with the Hastings Municipal Orchestra and then, until 1914, with other orchestras. He studied, after serving in World War I, at the RCM with Boult and Holst until 1925. In addition to the viola he was also taught violin by Achille Rivarde. He became principal viola with the LSO and the Covent Garden Orchestra. He resigned in 1936 as composition and conducting took up more of his time. Previously he had undertaken some conducting for the Carl Rosa Company, Sadler's Wells and various festivals including the Hastings Festival.

His first conducting engagement in London with the LSO was a great success with an outstanding performance of the Elgar Symphony No. 1 (20 January 1938). A selection of his Elgar recordings was issued on the now-deleted Beulah 1PD15: Falstaff with the LSO and Introduction and Allegro and Serenade with the New Symphony Orchestra.

Collins established the London Mozart Orchestra in 1939. The same year he went to the USA, conducting in New York and Los Angeles and writing film scores for RKO Studios. He returned to the U.K. in 1945 undertaking conducting tours for ENSA with the LSO, LPO, Hallé, Birmingham and Liverpool orchestras and more film work. He retained his British citizenship as well as an enduring regard for British music which is evidenced by the fact that he regularly included at least one work by a British composer in his New York concerts. There was a further visit to the UK in 1953 to conduct the LSO. He also pursued his conducting into the recording studio. In the early 1950s he recorded on mono Decca LPs a remarkable cycle of the Sibelius symphonies and tone poems. Beulah have issued all his Sibelius recordings although sadly they are now deleted.

Collins’ compositions cover a wide range: Ballet: The Willow Pattern Plate (1946). Choral: Cantata, The Lay of Rosabelle for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Opera: Catherine Parr (New York, 9.5.1949, one act, after a play by Maurice Baring); Perseus and Andromeda (one act); The Blue Harlequin (one act); Kanawa (one act). Concertos: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2. Orchestra: Symphony No. 1 for strings; Symphony No. 2, for strings (*Hallé/Barbirolli Cheltenham Festival 7.7.1950); Pastoral, Topley Pike (BBCSO/Collins, 1.2.1937); completion of Michael Savage Heming's Threnody for a Soldier Killed in Action (1943, FBP 2.11.1944, BBCSO/Raybould; later recorded by Barbirolli/Hallé and now reissued on EMI Classics CDM 5 66053 2); Hogarth Suite for oboe and strings (*Evelyn Rothwell/Hallé/Barbirolli, Cheltenham Festival, 17.7.1952); an orchestration of Schubert's Grand Duo D. 813 and much light music including the very popular Vanity Fair. There are film scores for: Sixty Glorious Years/Victoria The Great (1938); Allegheny Uprising (1939); Nurse Edith Cavell (1939); Swiss Family Robinson (1940); Tom Brown's Schooldays (1940); Destroyer (1943); Forever and a Day (1943); The Fabulous Texan (1947); Odette (1950); Trent's Last Case (1953); Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954); Laughing Anne (1954); The Rat; The Courtneys of Curzon Street. Chamber Music: String Quartet in B flat major; Trio for flute, viola and harp; Quartet for flute, violin, viola and harp; piano arrangements of Schubert and Mozart for four hands.

The Elegy in Memory of Edward Elgar is an intensely stormy piece at times sounding like Sibelius (Tempest Prelude and introduction to Finlandia) or Rubbra (Soliloquy and Symphony No. 4) in blackest mood. A searching string line reminded me of the sustained tormented cantilenas in William Alwyn’s First Symphony of 1949 and of the extremes of passion carried by the massed violins in Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique. There are a couple of moments where the colours and manner are so extreme that Collins’ Hollywood credentials show through. In case you are wondering, the Elegy does not sound at all Elgarian; no reason why it should. It ends in an atmosphere of peaceful resignation.

As is typical of Dutton this CD is exhaustively documented. The derivation of the concerto is given in page after page of analysis and commentary from Lewis Foreman, from David Owen Norris and from Robert Walker. Full sung texts are provided.

This disc is enthusiastically recommended to Elgarians everywhere. Only fundamentalist Elgar purists will need to avoid this - and those who do will do so will be seen as cutting off their nose to spite their face. The CD will also gain a ready hold on the growing ranks of fans of the romantic piano concerto. Those who pursue the furthest reaches of the English repertoire will also have to have this; not only for the Elgar but for the rare opportunity to hear some Anthony Collins.

Rob Barnett



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