Christopher Robinson follows up his well reviewed Naxos disc of
sacred choral music, made with the Choir of St. John’s College,
Cambridge, with this present collection of part-songs – or ‘choral
songs’ as Elgar preferred to call them.
of them are little gems, containing some of his finest music.
Indeed, a select few are outright masterpieces, so it’s quite
bewildering that full discs of them are quite rare. In fact,
the only alternative to this new Naxos disc I can bring to mind
is the Finzi Singers’ selection under Paul Spicer on Chandos.
That only duplicates about two-thirds of the Naxos, so buyers
could quite happily have both, as the performances are subtly
this time opts to use the Cambridge University Chamber Choir,
a mixed group made up largely from the graduate and undergraduate
communities of the University. This ensures a fresh, youthful
tone, less mature sounding than Spicer’s choir but no less full
bodied. It may not be every listener’s ideal, but to my ears
there’s a nice balance and pleasing sonority that serves the
of Elgar will know quite a few of the songs, especially if they
are involved in their local choral society. There are the much
loved favourites: There is Sweet Music, which flirts
with bi-tonality, and the early My Love Dwelt in a Northern
Land, which some critics rather dismissed but which Michael
Hurd appositely referred to as ‘…magnificently grand and passionate
– as if Parry had suddenly been released from gentlemanly reticence’.
As Torrents in Summer is another festival regular and,
like the rest of this well programmed collection, is given a
beautifully unmannered rendition by Robinson and his disciplined
the perhaps less well known songs, I love the strange chromatic
side-stepping in Owls (An Epitaph), which gives
a hint of exotic Wagnerian colouring. Michael Kennedy, writing
the liner note to Spicer’s recording, baldly states that Go,
Song of Mine is Elgar’s greatest song for unaccompanied
choir. Whether you agree or not, there’s no denying its power
and range, which in places anticipate the Violin Concerto and
Second Symphony. Robinson gives a deeply affecting reading,
not afraid to let the music speak for itself and let the choir
enjoy singing it.
this Naxos disc really parts company with other collections
is the inclusion of the Scenes from Bavarian Highlands
in their original settings with piano accompaniment. They are
extremely fine settings, especially On the Alm and Aspiration,
and remind one that these are rather better than we remembered.
really is a very fine disc, expertly recorded in Jesus College
Chapel and with an informative liner note from Geoffrey Hodgkins.
You may well have odd songs on miscellaneous compilations – as
in the famous Cambridge Singers/John Rutter disc on Collegium
– but for such a modest outlay there are many miniature treasures
here, all sung with a disarming simplicity and freshness that
suits them perfectly.