Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Kingdom, Op 51 (1906) [94:17]
Clare Rutter (soprano); Susan Bickley (mezzo); John Hudson (tenor); Iain Paterson (baritone)
Hallé Choir and Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder
rec. live, 17 October 2009, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
English text included
HALLÉ CDHLD7526 [57:49 + 36:28]

This performance of The Kingdom was recorded at a performance in the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester in October 2009. No patching session dates are given, so one can assume that it represents the live concert in its entirety, and a fine, technically and expressively elevated accomplishment it is too. Elder’s devotion to the music of Elgar has proved laudable.
As has been pointed out before, The Kingdom is something of an Andante among Elgar’s oratorios, and its largely contemplative and theatrically static nature calls for thorough pacing of its crest and fall. In these respects Elder marshals his forces with real acumen, as one can appreciate from the way in which he details the Prelude. Of the four recordings of this work, Richard Hickox takes this laudably, Boult unfolds it the most magisterially and by far the quickest, whilst Slatkin demonstrates unforced nobility.
There are three components in a successful performance:solo singers, chorus, orchestra. Of these, in this performance, it’s the solo singing that will generate the most contention. Iain Paterson is St Peter, and he has gravity, eloquence and control; and also a rather patrician nobility. What he lacks is John Shirley-Quirk’s added intimacy and breadth of tone and inflexion, for Boult, and his exceptional control of phraseology. In the scene where he sings ‘Repent, and be baptised’ [CD1 track 9], Paterson – with his youthful, eager tone – hectors for repentance whereas Shirley-Quirk encourages it. This differing sense of characterisation applies throughout the respective sets. For Hickox, David Wilson-Johnson is good but a touch stentorian. I’m afraid I’ll have to rule out Slatkin at this point, as they say in Building a Library recommendations. His recording is hard to trace now, and the solo singing is not up to the level of the other three sets; nor, in truth, does Slatkin’s pacing quite work. Part V is consistently too slow, and loses impetus.
John Hudson takes – appropriately – the role of John. He’s an intelligent singer, struggling just a touch here and there, but nothing too damaging. He’s not, though, as persuasive as Arthur Davies for Hickox or indeed Alexander Young for Boult, who outclasses all competition by some distance. For Elder, Mary Magdalene is Susan Bickley, a touch edgy in places, as in Pentecost (Part III), and the Virgin Mary is Claire Rutter. Their voices are a good match.
Some of the differences in localised direction of pacing are interesting. Boult relaxes into the end of the second part, At the Beautiful Gate, whereas Elder presses on, and I have to note the former’s better control of tempo relationships in Part III. Here the way he shapes the dramatic to contemplative moments, moulding the line before Peter’s ‘I have prayed for thee...’ is truly masterful, and bespeaks the many years’ understanding he had absorbed, not least hearing Elgar himself conduct it. He was one of those present during a dispiriting performance, conducted by Elgar, and rescued by Agnes Nicholls’s radiant singing of ‘The sun goeth down’. Elder’s direction of Part III is good, let me hasten to stress, but it’s the greater sense of intimacy that Boult conjures and the telling logic of the musical spine that sets it apart. So, too, one finds Boult and the LPO in genuinely menacing form in Part IV where Mary Magdalene’s recitative (‘And as they spake...’) generates a considerably intense response. By comparison Hickox and, here, Elder are more sedate. It’s details such as these - not so much ‘The sun goeth down’, which is well done by Claire Rutter, though not with either the tonal response or the expressive depth of Margaret Price for Boult - that marks out a good performance from a great one.
I note too that we no longer sing fill-èd’, just plain old ‘filled’. I rather miss the old Messiah days of ‘pardonèd’. There you go; that’s progress for you.
I’ve not mentioned much about the orchestral and choral contributions. They are both excellent. The choir has been extremely well rehearsed, entries are crisp, and strength across the range is evident. The Hallé plays consistently well, though I wouldn’t say it outperforms the LPO of the late 1960s. Indeed my preference for the Boult is obvious, I suppose. Good though this Elder performance is, it lacks the cumulative sense of tension and raptness that Boult brought to The Kingdom.
Jonathan Woolf
Good though this Elder performance is, it lacks the cumulative sense of tension and raptness that Boult brought to The Kingdom.