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Lammas Records

Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Great is the Lord (Psalm 48), Op. 67 (1910) [9.38]
Ave Verum Corpus, Op. 2, No. 1 (revised 1902) [2.31]
Organ Sonata in G Op. 21 (first movement only) (1895) [8.39]
O Salutaris Hostia (1880s) [2.49]
Ave Maria, Op. 2, No. 2 (revised 1902) [2.12]
Give unto the Lord (Psalm 29), Op. 74 (1914) [8.05]
O Salutaris Hostia (1880s) [3.21]
Doubt not thy Fatherís care (from Lux Christi) (1895) [2.55]
Te Deum and Benedictus Op. 34 (1897) [18.10]
Choir of St. Paulís Church, Rock Creek Parish, Washington DC.
Neil Watson (organ accompanist)
Graham Elliott (director and solo organ)
rec. 2, 4-5 March 2005, St. Paulís, Rock Creek Parish


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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.

This repertoire 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 work hard.

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.

Robert Hugill



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