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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) The Black Knight, Op. 25 (1889-93, revised 1898) [36:07] Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands, Op. 27 (1895-96) [25:03]
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
rec. All Saints’ Church, Tooting, London, 1995 CHANDOS CHAN10946X [61:24]
The Black Knight, described by the composer as a ‘symphony for chorus and orchestra’, was Elgar’s first real success as a composer after its premier at the Worcester Festival on the 18th of April 1893. It is a work I remember fondly from my home town orchestra, as with the aid of the Elgar Society the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic recorded it with Charles Groves on EMI, an LP I rushed out and bought and enjoyed greatly. This was replaced with the CD (CMS 5651042), and is a recording which has been ever constant in my collection.
The text is taken from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and features in his book Hyperion; this is in reality a translation of a poem by the German Ludwig Uhland. The work tells the story of an unnamed ‘Prince of mighty sway’ who appears at a tournament at the court of the Scottish king Alexander III during the feast of Pentecost. He defeats the Kings son at the tournament and at the following banquet asks for the hand of the princess in marriage. The stranger later gives the kings children a potion to help their pallor, this turns out to be poison and both die, the king begs the stranger to kill him, something he refuses. Although the work gained a degree of popularity it was soon forgotten, the success of Elgar’s later compositions serving to eclipse that of his Black Knight.
Elgar’s score contains some very fine choral writing, writing that not only was ahead of British choral writing of the time, but which also pointed to what was to come. Here, Hickox’s performance shows great understanding of the work, I think that the London Symphony Chorus sound a little more secure than the Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, leading to a warmer recorded sound. But both are very fine recordings.
The Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands has never been my favourite work by Elgar, and this despite my having a few recordings. It is a setting of six choral songs to texts by his wife Caroline Alice Elgar, three of which were later arranged as the orchestral suite, Three Bavarian Dances. This is a well performed recording with both the chorus and orchestra on fine form, again the warmth of the Chandos recording bringing out the best of this work.
What is abundantly clear from this recording is just what a sad loss to British music the untimely death of Richard Hickox. He championed music that was seen as unpopular and produced an outstanding legacy, one which all lovers of British music will attest to.