Elgar Choral Music

0 of 5 stars

Great is the Lord, Op.67
They are at rest
Queen Alexandra Memorial Ode
Ave Maria, Op.2/2
The Spirit of the Lord [Prologue to The Apostles, Op.49]
Te Deum & Benedictus, Op.34
O salutaris hostia
Ave verum, Op.2/1
Ecce sacerdos magnus
O hearken Thou, Op.64
Give unto the Lord, Op.74

The Choir of Westminster Abbey
James O’Donnell
Robert Quinney (organ)

Recorded July 2006 in Westminster Abbey, London

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: June 2007
Duration: 72 minutes

As Lewis Foreman writes in his booklet note, Elgar came to music from the organ loft and so it is somehow appropriate, in this the 150th-anniversary of Elgar’s birth, that we re-visit much of his music for the church – especially so given the fine performances by the Choir of Westminster Abbey.

In an intelligently planned programme we have the two large-scale anthems (“Great is the Lord” and “Give unto the Lord”) to begin and end, the jubilant “Te Deum & Benedictus” in the middle and a scattering of shorter pieces ranging over almost fifty years of Elgar’s composing in between. Actually, for this writer, it is the shorter pieces that work the best – there is something incredibly touching about the earliest works be they from the beginning of Elgar’s composing career, such as the Opus 2 settings (from 1887) of the “Ave verum” and “Ave Maria” or the little gem of a setting of “O salutaris hostia”, which are absolutely straightforward and sincere and without the bluster of some of his later music.

The latest work on the disc (whose title is almost as long as the piece itself – the “Queen Alexandra Memorial Ode”) is touching in other ways. The poem by John Masefield is awful and it’s hardly inspiring musically but it is one of the last things to come from Elgar’s pen (and originally scored for chorus and military band!) and with it comes a palpable air of resignation and regret for an era and a music long gone. The work has been orchestrated by Anthony Payne as “So many true princesses”.

Of the larger works, despite the best efforts of organist Robert Quinney, one cannot help but miss Elgar’s wonderful orchestrations. There is a moment in “Give unto the Lord” at the words ‘The voice of the Lord is upon the waters’ which results in a superb ascending whoosh of sound from the orchestra that just can’t be re-produced on an organ.

The Choir of Westminster Abbey has tough competition in this repertoire as there is a near-immaculate disc on Naxos, at a bargain-price of course, and sung quite brilliantly by the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge under Christopher Robinson. The choristers of Westminster Abbey sometimes seem fazed by Elgar at his most energetic and I miss the floating quality of the Clare voices – particularly in the magical middle section of “Give unto the Lord”, which shows Elgar at his most inspired, but those coming to the repertoire anew or even committed Elgarians will I know gain much pleasure from this new release.

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