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The Spirit of England
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Spirit of England, cantata for soprano, tenor, chorus and orchestra with organ, Op.80 (1916-17) [27:17]
Frederick Septimus KELLY (1881-1916)
Elegy for StringsIn Memoriam Rupert Brooke’, tone poem for harp and strings (1915) [8:16]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
War Elegy (1920) [11:06]
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
The Chivalry of the Sea, naval ode for five part chorus and orchestra (1916) [13:59]
Lilian ELKINGTON (1901-69)
Out of the Mist, tone poem (1921) [7:50]
Susan Gritton (soprano)
Andrew Kennedy (tenor)
Ian Farrington (organ)
BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. 25–27 February 2006, The Colosseum, Town Hall, Watford. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7172 [69:00]

 


The theme here is the ‘Great War’, works by five English based composers that they were inspired to write in honour of those fallen. Dutton state that these are all world premiere recordings. The Spirit of England has been recorded many times before but evidently not in this version.

The Spirit of England by Elgar uses settings of war-inspired poems by Laurence Binyon. The score was dedicated: To the memory of our glorious men, with a special thought for the Worcesters. Cast in three movements, named The Fourth of August; To Women and For the Fallen, the complete score was given its first performance in August 1917 at Birmingham under Appleby Matthews with the New Zealand soprano Rosina Buckman. Another performance, this time conducted by the composer, was given at the Royal Albert Hall, London in November 1917 with soprano Agnes Nicholls and tenor Gervase Elwes. Sometimes described as Elgar’s Requiem, The Spirit of England remains one of his most underrated scores, which is undeserved as this unfashionable work contains some superb music.

Perhaps its best known recording is from the London Symphony Orchestra and Choir under Richard Hickox on EMI Classics 5 75794-2. It is included in a 13 disc box set of the Elgar ‘choral music’ alongside Gerontius; Apostles; The Kingdom; Music Makers and also the Enigma Variations played by the RLPO under Sir Charles Groves.

Australian-born composer Frederick Kelly arrived in England to study at Eton and Oxford and became a celebrated rower, representing England. A composition pupil of Sir Donald Tovey at Balliol College, Oxford, Kelly was a promising concert pianist. His Elegy In Memoriam Rupert Brookefor harp and strings is the best known of the small body of works he wrote before his untimely death during active service on the Somme in the winter of 1916. The short tone poem was written in homage to the poet Rupert Brooke. Kelly had, it seems, been present on the French hospital ship on which Brooke died in 1915 and at the funeral at Skyros in Greece. The whole harrowing experience of the war clearly affected him deeply.

The War Elegy from 1920 is a rare orchestral work by Ivor Gurney who was wounded and also gassed on the Western Front, spending much of his later life in mental institutions. I have no hesitation in classing the highly talented Gurney as one of the finest ever song composers. The War Elegy was given a Patron’s Fund performance in 1921 at the Royal College of Music in London, conducted by the young Adrian Boult with the then-new Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

The score to the War Elegy disappeared from the scene, having been stored at the Royal College of Music, until revived in a run-through by Richard Carder with the Canford Summer School of Music in 1988. A formal performance followed in 2003 by the Gloucestershire Symphony Orchestra under Mark Finch at Cheltenham. Evidently Gurney’s manuscript was in a disorganised state and required considerable editing by Mark Finch for the 2003 performance. For this recording a new performing edition has been made by Ian Venables and Philip Lancaster.

When writing for orchestra and chorus Sir Hubert Parry has few peers as his renowned works: Blest Pair of Sirens; Jerusalem and I Was Glad clearly demonstrate. In the same tradition, his 1916 score The Chivalry of the Sea, a naval ode for five part chorus and orchestra, using a Robert Bridges text, proves to be an impressive composition. Although feted in his day Parry’s music has gained a reputation for being stuffy and academic, quickly becoming unfashionable. Thankfully this viewpoint is being reappraised with several recordings of his scores now available. A full-blooded work The Chivalry of the Sea was written for the concert given in December 1916 to commemorate those lives lost at the Battle of Jutland in a performance of works that also included Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony and Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet.

A new name to me, Lilian Elkington was a composition and piano pupil of Sir Granville Bantock at Birmingham. The 1921 tone poem Out of the Mist was composed to commemorate the arrival of the warship carrying the body of the Unknown Soldier at a heavily misty Dover in 1920. A performance of Out of the Mist was given in 1921 in Birmingham at a student concert, with further performances in Harrogate and Bournemouth. It seems that Elkington got married and gave up composing. When her daughter gave a radio interview for BBC’s Women’s Hour in 1988 she was not aware that her mother had been a composer. The score and parts to Out of the Mist were discarded and subsequently discovered in a Worthing bookshop. The score was eventually performed at Eton by the Windsor Sinfonia under Robert Tucker in 1988.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra under that stalwart advocate of British music David Lloyd-Jones are at their most vital and compelling with these Great War inspired scores. Soprano Susan Gritton and tenor Andrew Kennedy are in fine voice being both expressive and keenly sensitive to the frequently affecting texts. In For The Fallen from Elgar’s The Spirit of England I enjoyed the brisk marching section at 4:38-6:29 and the glorious singing at the climax (10:05-11:58) which is a highlight of the score. Kelly’s yearning and melancholic Elegy for Strings In Memoriam Rupert Brooke’ proves to be a poignant work that contains short episodes for solo violin. Also prominent are shimmering strings that are said to represent the rustle of olive trees over Brooke’s grave. Gurney’s splendid and highly moving War Elegy includes recurring, trudging march episodes and magnificent orchestral climaxes at 6:56-7:55 and 9:07-9:59.One would have to possess a heart of stone not to be moved by the bleak and poignant ending of the War Elegy. Parry’s gift for choral writing is fully demonstrated by his glorious The Chivalry of the Sea and the constantly changing moods of the score are conveyed with impressive assurance by the BBC orchestra and chorus. A real find is Lilian Elkington’s score Out of the Mist. It reminded me at times of Rachmaninov’s symphonic poem the Isle of the Dead. Intense and deeply affecting, Out of the Mist is a work that deserves to be heard more often.

Recorded at Watford Town Hall the Dutton disc has a decent sound quality being well balanced and reasonably clear. The programme notes from John Norris and Lewis Foreman are as authoritative as we have come to expect from this label.

This disc of Great War inspired scores makes a worthy addition to the catalogue and contains some superb music.

Michael Cookson

Information received
Posted by David Brown on July 4, 2007

It was deeply gratifying to read Michael Cookson's review of the new Dutton "Spirit of England" disc that includes Lilian Elkington's "Out of the Mist", and particularly to read his view that this work "deserves to be heard more often". It was I who rescued the manuscript materials of the work many years ago in that Worthing bookshop, and nothing would please me more now than to see it grace concert programmes in the wake of this recording. It is scored for a standard orchestra of two flutes + piccolo, oboe + cor anglais, two clarinets, two bassoons + contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, harp, strings. If anyone has contacts with an orchestra that would be interested in performing it, please contact me privately.


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