Elgarís choral music
divides into two periods. In his early days when he was trying
to earn a living in Worcester he wrote a number of pieces for
St. Georgeís Roman Catholic Church. Once he was famous he wrote
for larger-cale Anglican occasions. Because of this religious
divide, it is not just Elgarís maturing style which differs
between the two groups of pieces. The early ones were written
to suit the abilities of the local church choir and to match
the musical expectations of Roman Catholic singers and congregation.
As a result, Elgarís
early choral pieces are easily written off as slight, especially
when compared to a major piece like Great is the Lord,
which was written about the same time as the Violin Concerto.
But, like Elgarís early salon pieces, the early sacred music
has great melodic charm and more than satisfies the needs of
its performers; witness the continued use of the motets in Roman
Catholic churches today. Elgar was sufficiently proud of his
early Latin motets to revise three of them and issue them as
his Op. 2. These are the Ave Verum, Ave Maria and
Ave Maris Stella. Unfortunately, the choir of St. Paulís
Church, Rock Creek, Washington DC choose to omit the Ave
Maris Stella setting, which seems a shame, especially on
a disc with a running time of less than 60 minutes.
has already been recorded by the choir of St. Johnís College,
Cambridge on a Naxos disc which has been very well received.
The present one will attract interest partly because the choir
is not English although their musical director, Graham Elliott,
was previously Master of the Music at Chelmsford Cathedral.
Another attraction might be that the choir is mixed (women and
men), though the women produce a sound which is light, clear
and bright and has elements that could be called boyish.
The choir is shown
off at its best in the early Latin pieces. Here they respond
well to the musicís charm and point up its sophistication without
overdoing things. The solo in the Ave Verum is well taken
by soprano Greta Getlein. These pieces also suit the size of
the choir which numbers just eight professional singers.
In addition to the
Ave Verum and Ave Maria from Elgarís Op. 2, the
choir also includes two settings of O Salutaris Hostia
written in the 1880s. Again, these are charming settings which
mix approachability and sophistication and the choir is shown
off well in them.
Where I was less
convinced was in the later English items - the Psalm settings
Great is the Lord and Give unto the Lord, and
the Te Deum and Benedictus. These are all bigger
boned, designed for a larger group of singers and imbued with
the feel of Elgarís later symphonic and choral styles; Give
unto the Lord was originally scored for orchestra, organ
and choir. The choir sing very musically with a good feel for
the shape and style of Elgarís phrases. What I missed was the
amplitude of tone that a larger body of singers would bring
to the music. Admirable though these performances are, for me
there were just too many moments when I was aware that I was
listening to just eight singers and that they were having to
Part of the raison
díÍtre of the disc is to show off the versatility of the
churchís new organ, so Graham Elliott plays the first movement
of Elgarís organ sonata. This was written for a much larger
organ and it says much for their 2004 Dobson Organ that Elliottís
performance was able to be so convincing. Iím sure there are
people who will miss the sound of a bigger organ in this piece,
but my own concerns were more over the excerpting of just the
first movement. By and large I prefer to hear works whole.
This is in many
ways an admirable disc. That the choir are able to tackle such
large-scale pieces says much for them and for the organ. If
you love Elgarís sacred music then think about acquiring this
disc as a companion to compare and contrast with the admirable
disc from St. Johnís College.