Elgar: A Self-portrait

0 of 5 stars

Overture – Froissart, Op.19
Dream Children, Op.43
The Music Makers, Op.69
Bach, orch. Elgar
Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV537/Op.86

Jane Irwin (mezzo-soprano)

Hallé Choir

Hallé Orchestra
Mark Elder

Recorded between 22-24 March 2005 in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler

Reviewed: October 2005
Duration: 68 minutes

“The Music Makers” has tended to be seen as something of a poor relation among Elgar’s later large-scale works. But Mark Elder and his Hallé forces ride roughshod over received opinion with a performance of such blazing conviction you wonder how the idea could ever have arisen.

The orchestral introduction serves notice that this is to be an intensely passionate reading, as well as one informed by meticulous attention to detail. These qualities also mark the singing of the Hallé Choir. The quiet fervour of its first entry is compelling, and the observation of the drop from p to pp at the words “on whom the pale moon gleams” is symptomatic of the care with which this recording has been prepared. Impassioned, energised passages are thrilling, balanced by a feeling for the profound introspection elsewhere. Jane Irwin’s complete identification with the solo part produces some grippingly heartfelt singing at moments such as the ‘Nimrod’ quotation at “But on one man’s soul…”

More than just about any performance I can remember, Froissart is particularly notable for its volatile tempo changes, following Novello’s 1972 edition prepared by Sir Adrian Boult. Elder gets full value out of the slower dreamier passages, and the quick music has an exhilarating electric charge.

In Dream Children he and the Hallé enter that peculiarly Elgarian world of haunted nostalgia with touching comprehension. I like the slightly quicker than usual tempo for the second of the two movements, giving it both a waltz-like lilt and an innocence which heightens the aching sense of loss when the first movement is quoted again at the end.

The Fantasia and Fugue may be an orchestration of a Bach organ piece, but in the Hallé’s performance – urgent and full of vitality – it is as revealing of Elgar’s inner world as any of his original works. The Fantasia is charged with Elgarian ‘stately sorrow’, and in its desperation the Fugue comes close to the world of the Second Symphony’s scherzo.

The recordings combine clarity and depth, that of the Fantasia and Fugue being particularly vivid.

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