Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Sea Pictures (1899) (Sea Slumber Song [5.15]; In Haven [1.42]; Sabbath Morning at Sea [5.47]; Where Corals Lie [3.57]; The Swimmer [5.52])
Polonia (1915) [13.16]
Pomp and Circumstance Marches: No. 1 in D major (1901) [6.14]; No. 2 in A minor (1901) [5.14]; No. 3 in C minor (1904) [5.49]; No. 4 in G major (1907) [4.52]; No. 5 in C major (1930) [6.15]
Alice Coote (mezzo)
Hallé Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder
rec: Sea Pictures: Hallé St Peter’s, Ancoats, Manchester, 5-7 August 2014; remainder: BBC Mediacity, Salford, Manchester; Marches: 4-5 February 2012; Polonia 10 September 2013.
HALLÉ CDHLL7536 [64.58]

I sometimes think it would be advisable for reviewers to state their ages. Then readers would know at once and maybe appreciate that these writers had been heavily impressed by recordings they first heard 40, 50 or 60 years ago and possibly prejudiced in their favour ever since. On the other hand improved sound and different styles of performance might well impress younger ears that much more. I say this because Boult’s and Barbirolli’s Elgar readings spring to this reviewer’s mind all too easily when remembering the former’s recording of the Pomp and Circumstance marches and the latter’s Sea Pictures with the incomparable Janet Baker. That said, I persuaded myself to listen to this CD with an open mind and listening for comparison’s sake to both the older ‘classic’ performances.

I will say straightaway that I was very favourably impressed with Sir Mark’s reading of Polonia. Michael Kennedy was right when he wrote – “It is time someone spoke up for Polonia. [It is] usually dismissed as a pot-pourri of Polish tunes …” Elder’s reading surpasses that of Boult (review). It has dignity and splendour aplenty and there is a nice lilt to the softer more lyrical section.

Alice Coote’s mezzo-soprano has an appealing timbre and her diction is quite flawless. She scores well in the most popular song ‘Where Corals Lie’ but she cannot compete with the deeper-voiced dignified solemnity that Janet Baker brings to Elgar’s very affecting settings of ‘Sabbath Morning at Sea’ and ‘The Swimmer (review).’ The Hallé is caught in more vivid sound than that which served Barbirolli back in 1965.

Again the richer more modern sound serves Elder’s account of the Pomp and Circumstance marches very well but I have to say that I prefer the stronger pulse and majesty of Boult’s readings in the most impressive marches of the set: Nos. 1 and 4 and 5, recorded in London’s Kingsway Hall under producer Christopher Bishop and balance engineer, Christopher Parker. I would just mention the magnificence of No. 4, long my favourite in Boult’s hands, and his swagger (drained by Elder) in the underestimated No. 5.

A small gripe: the total timing of this CD does not overly impress. Surely another item or two could have been included, possibly one or two earlier marches such as the Imperial March of 1897 and the Triumphal March from Caractacus, written a year later?

On the whole this makes a confident entry but memories of the performances of Boult’s P&C and Barbirolli’s Sea Pictures - with the wonderful Janet Baker - cannot be displaced in this reviewer’s mind.

Ian Lace

Previous review: Michael Cookson

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