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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Go, song of mine - Part-Songs and Choral Works
see track listing below review
Rodolfus Choir/Ralph Allwood
rec. St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico, London, January 2009. DDD.
English texts and Latin texts and English translations included
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD315 [75:47]


 
The Rodolfus Choir has built a fine and well-deserved reputation as one of the outstanding British youth choirs. It comprises around forty young singers, the cream of the alumni of the prestigious Eton Choral Course. Several of their previous recordings have won high praise in these pages, including a disc of choral music by Herbert Howells, Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, and a recording of the B Minor Mass which I myself reviewed. Under the baton of their founder, Ralph Allwood, they now turn their attention of some of Elgar’s shorter choral works.
 
The selected repertoire ranges from some of the very early pieces of Latin church music – these, frankly, are pretty conventional and I doubt they’d be performed very often nowadays were Elgar’s name not attached to them – through to two late pieces dating from the 1920s. Of these latter items I sing the birth is a setting of words by Ben Johnson, which dates from 1928. It’s a touching little Christmas piece that deserves to be better known. In passing, one of several irritating slips in the booklet means that only the tenor soloist is credited; that’s a shame as his anonymous soprano and baritone colleagues both sing just as well. The other piece from the 1920s is The Prince of Sleep (1925), a setting of Walter de la Mare. This little piece has a tender melancholy to it and Ralph Allwood’s young singers do it very well.
 
Much better known is As torrents in summer, originally a chorus from the large-scale cantata King Olaf (1896) and nowadays the only part of that work which is heard with any frequency. I enjoyed the youthfully light singing in this well-shaped performance. My love dwelt in a northern land has the distinction that it was the first piece by Elgar to be published by Novello; that was in 1890 and I bet it made them some money over the years for it’s a fine part-song. Here the sopranos and tenors do a very good job of sustaining Elgar’s long lines.
 
The four songs that Elgar grouped together as Op. 53 were written while he and hiswife were spending the winter of 1907-08 in Rome. There is sweet music, a Tennyson setting, is cast in eight parts and includes, as a rather remarkable feature for the time, passages where the four parts for the ladies are in one key while those for the men are in a completely different key. The fourth song in this set, Owls, is in some ways even more remarkable. I don’t mean to disparage the piece in the slightest but it is pretty quirky. Not only are the words – by the composer himself – strange but also the music is most unusual in tone. The resulting piece is aptly described in Alistair Sampson’s useful notes as “a scary, sinister nightmare”.
 
The majority of the pieces in this programme are secular. Of the sacred pieces the most interesting – and characteristic – are O Hearken Thou and Give unto the Lord. The former was composed for the coronation of King George V in 1911 though, apparently, it was sung in an abridged form at the service. It’s a lovely, thoughtful piece and it receives a very committed performance here. Give unto the Lord is much more ‘public’ in style; it’s a big, ambitious piece even if it is fairly short in duration. The ambition of the piece probably reflects the fact that it was written with the huge space of St. Paul’s Cathedral in mind; it was composed in 1914 for the annual Festival of the Sons of the Clergy service. The Rodolfus Choir is equally successful in the impressive, powerful stretches of music and in the more reflective passages. In another careless omission from the booklet the name of the organist, who has an important role in both these pieces, is not given. Whoever the organist is he or she plays very well.
 
This is an attractive disc. The Rodolfus Choir offers a fresh, clean and clear choral sound. There are 38 singers involved here (11/10/8/9) and it is clear that they have been scrupulously prepared by Ralph Allwood. Just occasionally the light tone betrays the youth of these singers – the maximum age is 25, I believe – but not to any extent that detracts from the overall excellence of their singing. Elgar’s choral music is well served here.
 
John Quinn

see also review (Recording of the Month) by Ian Lace

Track Listing

Go, song of mine, Op. 57 [4:23]
As torrents in summer (from Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf, Op. 30) [2:04]
O salutaris hostia [2:31]
My love dwelt in a northern land, Op 18, No 3 [4:11]
Ave, verum corpus, Op. 2n No 1 [2:50]
I sing the birth [3:51]
Love, Op. 18, No 2 [2:23]
The Prince of Sleep [4:37]
Four Choral Songs, Op. 53 [14:47]
O Hearken Thou, Op. 64 [3:51]
Ave Maria, Op. 2, No 2 [2:31]
Ave maris stella, Op. 2, No 3 [3:59]
The shower, Op. 71, No 1 [2:29]
The Fountain, Op.71, No 2 [3:38]
Death on the Hills, Op. 72 [3:55]
Love’s Tempest, Op. 73, No 1
Serenade, Op. 73, No 2 [2:03]
Give unto the Lord, Op. 74 [8:30]


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