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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Sea Pictures Op.37 (1899) [23:05]
The Music Makers Op.69 (1912) [39:39]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Simon Wright
rec. The Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, January 2006
NAXOS 8.557710 [62:44]
much one tries not to acknowledge the fact it’s inevitable
that the three B’s - Baker, Boult and Barbirolli – hover
benignly over this release. The famous coupling of Sea
Pictures and the du Pré Cello Concerto has seen service
for forty years now. And Baker’s association with Boult was
no less noteworthy in respect of The Music Makers.
So, tough acts and all that.
think Connolly survives the inevitable comparisons as well
as could be expected. She’s probably the most outstanding
of the current crop of British mezzos and her singing here
is often distinguished.
Pictures is the more immediately and overtly exciting work, pitching the soloist
straight into the fray whereas The Music Makers reserves
her for later and its mingling of poetry, Straussian self-quotation
and nostalgia can take a while to appreciate. One of Connolly’s
prominent technical advantages is the resonant and excellently
sustained lower part of the voice – it means that vocal
weight is well distributed throughout the range and she’s
as comfortable in the chest range as in the more declamatory
writing. The former quality is very much audible in Sea
Slumber-Song, the latter in Sabbath Morning at Sea.
Here one finds the she uses quite a bit of rubato and builds
to the climax with real perception. No one has yet done
it like Baker but Connolly eclipses quite a number of other
contenders here, especially those who are inclined to squall.
She’s also very attentive to the words – not that they’re
necessarily much in themselves - like any number of composers
Elgar liked setting bad texts. But Where Corals Lie has
a serene poetry all its own and Connolly does very well
by it. Dramatic and fluid the climax of The Swimmer caps
a fine vocal performance, one I’d be happy to recommend.
The orchestral backing though is inclined to be a touch
undernourished. One appreciates the well-balanced harp,
and much of the connective tissue of the writing but Wright
and the Bournemouth Orchestra offer nothing genuinely diverting.
think this is more of a problem in The Music Makers.
Wright sets off just slightly too jauntily a tempo – a more
relaxed and steady speed would probably have been better.
The self-quotations emerge from the fabric of the score with
requisite immediacy but there’s little that really lifts
them beyond the merely self-referential. There’s a lack of
real rapture and soulfulness. That’s true when one compares
him with Boult and also true when one measures this performance
against that of Andrew Davis on Warner [2564 62199-2] who
has Jean Rigby with him. And it is also the case that the
2004 Proms performance given by the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson,
who gave a mesmerising performance that I hope will be issued
commercially. In comparison with these kinds of intensities
the new Connolly/Wright performance burns rather less brightly.
I should stress again that Connolly is a splendid singer
and much of her contribution is of a very high standard.
To get closer to the heart of these works though the mezzo
is not enough; as for recommendations Baker obviously in
both but also Rigby and Davis in The Music Makers – these
are still my preferred choices.
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