The growing genius of a titan of English music comes vividly into focus in a stunning collection of Edward Elgar’s music for chorus and orchestra from the Brighton Festival Chorus and BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth.
The voice was at the centre of Elgar’s musical life as a child – his sister recalled family evenings when “[we] sang and sang for the very joy of singing” – and it was to play a defining role in his own compositions. Spanning 26 years – from the imposing setting of Ecce sacerdos magnus (‘Behold the great priest’)* in 1888 to the richly realised psalm settings of the 1910s, it is possible to chart in these often moving, occasionally monumental works the development of Elgar’s prowess in setting the voice. The muscular and poetic Op.34 Te Deum and Benedictus and consoling Offertory Anthem, O Hearken Thou (composed for the coronation of King George V in 1911) are heard alongside two contrasted psalms – the mighty Great is the Lord and bold and vigorous Give unto the Lord – that have become cornerstones of the English choral tradition. Two sunny, secular works show Elgar balancing delicacy and deliberateness with consummate skill. Based on a play by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the Iberian-accented Spanish Serenade is courtship of exquisite beauty and warmth. Scenes from the Bavarian Alps sets words by the composer’s wife, Alice, to produce six animated and colourful songs that conjure the sights and sounds of happy holiday visits by the recent newlyweds. Behold the Great Priest presents a treasure-trove of Elgar’s choral compositions intriguingly mapping out his development towards the full-scale masterpieces of Sea Pictures, The Apostles and The Dream of Gerontius. Illuminating, newly commissioned notes are provided by Andrew Neill, chairman of the Elgar Society from 1992-2008. * A rarity on disc, Ecce sacerdos magnus shares its opening notes with the Benedictus from Joseph Haydn’s Harmoniemesse. Included here is an excerpt from a 1949 recording of Haydn’s Benedictus by the Munich Cathedral Choir and Orchestra conducted by Ludwig Berberich to demonstrate the striking similarities between the two.
On This Recording
- Ecce sacerdos magnus
- Te Deum, Op. 34 No. 1
- Benedictus, Op. 34 No. 2
- O Hearken Thou, Op. 64
- Great is the Lord, Psalm 48, Op. 67
- Give unto the Lord, Psalm 29, Op. 74
- Spanish Serenade, Op. 23
- Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands, Op. 27 – The Dance
- False Love
- On the Alm
- The Marksmen
- Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Harmoniemesse, Hob. XXII: 14 – Benedictus