I had the enjoyable experience of reviewing Christopher Robinson’s
disc of Elgar’s Sacred Choral Music not so long ago (see review).
There he directed the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge;
here he’s with the Cambridge University Chamber
Choir. These two Naxos discs stake out a formidable case for
Robinson’s mastery of this repertory and his acutely sensitive
moulding of the various choral forces under his command.
are not so common on disc that any Elgarian would easily or
willingly pass them by. Though I’ve always found them uneven
in quality, at their best they offer top-drawer Elgar – unsettling,
sometimes, and deeply expressive. For the record one should
note that the songs from the ‘Greek Anthology’ are not here
and there is only one item from Op.18. There is no direct competition
inasmuch as the Finzi Singer’s collection on Chandos [CHAN 9269]
doesn’t duplicate this one exactly though there is substantial
overlap. On balance I would say that their disc is the more
overtly expressive in terms of performance, though this Naxos
traversal of the Part-Songs lacks for nothing in terms of technical
precision, blending and unanimity. And the question of emotive
engagement is a pretty close-run thing.
One notices the
blending of voices in Deep in my Soul, the second of
the Op.53 settings which is richly voiced but not over-indulgent
in terms of tempo. The Op.72 setting Death on the Hills
is a fine example of a general quality – not only clarity of
diction but also the precision and unanimity of entries. The
most spooky of these part-songs – and possibly the spookiest
thing Elgar ever wrote – is Owls and this receives a
comprehensively successful performance, fully alive to the more
spectral and withdrawn qualities. This is a very unusual example
of Elgar setting his own poetry and its vaguely Poe-like quality
will intrigue those who are unfamiliar with it.
set of six songs that form Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands
is performed with piano accompaniment and. makes for youthful,
vivid listening. These are amongst the earliest settings and
their verdant and eager profile make for delightful listening.
Robinson shapes them with great care and surety.
are full texts and a good and very helpful note from Geoffrey
by Tony Haywood