Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Hills of Dreamland - Orchestral Songs
Song Cycle, Op. 59 (1909)
The Wind at Dawn (1888, orch 1912) [3:43]
Pipes of Pan (1900, 0rch 1902) [3:46]
Two Songs, Op.60 (1909/10, orch. 1912)
Pleading, Op. 48 (1908) [4.02]
Follow the Colours (1908, rev. for orchestra 1914) [6.38]
The King’s Way (1909) [4.28]
Complete incidental music to ‘Grania and Diarmid’ [14.24]
11 Songs with Piano [37.00]
Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano)
Henk Neven (baritone)
Nathalie de Montmollin (soprano)
Barry Collett (piano)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
rec. 2017, Watford Colosseum (orchestral); Turner Sims, Southampton (piano songs)
Sung texts included in booklet
SOMM SOMMCD271-2 [53.30 + 37.00]
Elgar’s orchestral songs are works I have never encountered in concert performance although they have fared rather better on record. Here Somm has released a double CD set titled ‘The Hills of Dreamland’ a collection of ten of Elgar’s Orchestral Songs performed by Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano) and Henk Neven (baritone) together with the complete incidental music to Grania and Diarmid played by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth. Also included is an ‘Elgar Society Bonus CD’ that contains eleven songs by soprano Nathalie de Montmollin with piano accompaniment from Barry Collett. I notice that the double set contains three first recordings.
Elgar was one of many English composers inspired by the Austro/German passion for Lieder and the medium of the orchestral song from the latter half of the nineteenth century, an interest that lasted to around the early decades of the twentieth Century. Wagner’s Wesendonk Lieder (1857-58) became a significant stimulus on the development of the genre and coming later the songs of Liszt, Richard Strauss, Wolf and particularly Mahler provided significant impetus. Another influence was Dvořák, whose choral music was popular in England and who made several visits to the country. Another factor was the rise in England of the choral society and the popularity of choral festivals such as Three Choirs, Birmingham, Leeds, Norwich, Hanley, Sheffield et al.
In the booklet essay Barry Collet writes that Elgar’s songs “are probably the least regarded part of his output” a comment that I find hard to disagree with. Of course, Elgar’s glorious Sea Pictures (1899) a cycle of five songs for contralto and orchestra is his best known. Elgar composed his songs mainly prior to nineteen-hundred with some written when the composer was in his seventies. Elgar would sometimes revisit his songs and orchestrate them. Although his body of songs are in my view rather uneven in quality there are undoubtably some jewels to be discovered.
One of the finest songs is Pleading a setting of Arthur L. Salmon which contains the line The Hills of Dreamland which is used as the title of the album. Here Katherine Rudge is in marvellous form, as she is throughout the recording, displaying her lovely tone with notable ease of projection making every note count. A typical example of the singing of Dutch baritone Henk Neven is the patriotic marching song Follow the Colours: Marching Song for Soldiers. Neven has a warm, attractive voice although I find his style of diction soon becomes wearing. No problems with the playing of BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth who give an impressive response which is entirely consistent.
Included also is Elgar’s complete incidental music for a 1901 Gaiety Theatre, Dublin staging of George Moore and William Butler Yeats’s play Grania and Diarmid one of the most celebrated tragic tales of great Celtic Heroic legends. It’s an agreeable score beautifully performed by BBC Concert Orchestra with Rudge excelling in the song There are seven that pull the thread.
The second CD, described as a “bonus”, is produced with the patronage of the Elgar Society comprising of eleven songs with piano all performed by Swiss soprano Nathalie de Montmollin and pianist Barry Collett. In truth I’m not able to warm to Montmollin’s voice which I don’t find attractive, displaying unevenness and her enunciation of the text I find problematic. Collett has full measure of these works and plays convincingly.
In the orchestral songs, which were recorded at Watford Colosseum, both singers Rudge and Neven are set slightly too far back for my taste as if sinking comfortably into the often lush orchestration. The songs for voice and piano on the ‘Elgar Society Bonus CD’ were well recorded at Turner Sims, Southampton, although missing warmth. In the booklet Barry Collett’s essay The Hills of Dreamland is easy to read and quite informative together with other essays from Andrew Neill (Grania and Diarmid) and a second from Collett (songs with piano). The Somm label is to be praised for providing full sung texts to both CDs.
Overall, I am only able to give a mixed reception to this Somm double set with the orchestral songs disc being the finer of the two. Worthy of attention is an excellent recent Elgar release that includes several orchestral songs together with Falstaff, Op. 68 and incidental music and funeral march to Grania and Diarmid, Op. 42. Here Roderick Williams (baritone) is accompanied by BBC Philharmonic under Sir Andrew Davis on Chandos (review~review).
CD 1 [53.30]
Orchestral Songs – Song Cycle, Op. 59 (1909)
1. Oh, soft was the song** (No. 3) [2.00]
2. Was it some golden star?** (No. 5) [2.44]
3. Twilight** (No. 6) [2.50]
4. The Wind at Dawn* (1888, orch. 1912) [3.43]
5. The Pipes of Pan** (1900, orch. 1901) [3.46]
Two Songs, Op.60 (1909/10, orch. 1912):
6. The Torch* (No. 1) [3.16]
7. The River* (No. 2) [5.24]
8. Pleading, Op. 48* (1908) [4.02]
9. Follow the Colours: Marching Song for Soldiers**† (1908, rev. for orchestra 1914) [6.38]
10. The King’s Way* (1909) [4.28]
Incidental Music to the ‘Grania and Diarmid’ (1901)
11. Incidental Music [3.38]
12. Funeral March [7.13]
13. Song: There are seven that pull the thread* [3.33]
Kathryn Rudge* (mezzo-soprano) & Henk Neven** (baritone)
CD 2 [37.00]
Elgar Society Bonus CD
Songs with Piano
1. Like to the Damask Rose [3.47]
2. The Shepherd’s Song [3.08]
3. Dry those fair, those crystal eyes [2.04]
4. The Mill Wheel: Winter† [2.27]
5. Muleteer’s Serenade† [2.18]
6. As I laye a-thynkynge [6.57]
7. Queen Mary’s Song [3.31]
8. The Torch [2.18]
9. The River [4.22]
10. In the Dawn [3.11]
11. Speak Music [2.52]
Nathalie de Montmollin (soprano) & Barry Collett (piano)
First recordings †