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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Hills of Dreamland - Orchestral Songs
Song Cycle, Op. 59 (1909)
The Wind at Dawn (1888, orch 1912) [3:43]
The Pipes of Pan (1900, orch 1901) [3:46]
Two Songs, Op.60 (1909/10, orch. 1912)
Pleading, Op. 48 (1908) [4.02]
Follow the Colours (1908, rev. for orchestra 1914) [6.38]
The King’s Way (1909) [4.28]
Complete incidental music to ‘Grania and Diarmid’ [14.24]
11 Songs with Piano [37.00]
Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano)
Henk Neven (baritone)
Nathalie de Montmollin (soprano)
Barry Collett (piano)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
rec. 2017, Watford Colosseum (orchestral); Turner Sims, Southampton (piano songs)
Sung texts included in booklet
SOMM SOMMCD271-2 [53.30 + 37.00]

Whilst the first of these two CD’s contains only one hitherto unrecorded orchestral song, I myself am unfamiliar with any of them, and so welcome this excellently recorded CD; I have listened to it with great pleasure.

The first item is the Song Cycle Op.59 (Elgar gave it no other collective title). The songs are ‘Oh soft was the song’, ‘Was it some golden star’ and ‘Twilight’. They are tender songs, written in 1908 for a memorial concert to Elgar’s friend, A.E.Jaeger. The baritone, Henk Neven sings them with a most appropriate warmth. ‘The Wind at Dawn’ of 1888 is his first setting of words by his wife-to-be, Alice Roberts. In its initial piano format, it actually won him 5 in a competition, but the later orchestration is superb, developing into real surging passion, and Kathryn Rudge soars above it beautifully. The other song, dating from 1901 in its orchestrated form, is ‘The Pipes of Pan’. Pan was a god of the wild, shepherds and flocks and so the song has much driving energy and colour, although there are passages of bucolic dance.

The disc continues with ‘Two Songs Op.60’, which I like a lot! The words are by Elgar himself and the music is immensely memorable and wonderfully orchestrated – delicate expressiveness coupled with wholly Elgarian surges of power. Kathryn Rudge is wonderful here. Why aren’t these songs better known? They give us Elgar firing on all cylinders.

‘Pleading Op.48’ comes next, and the first line of the poem, by Arthur L. Salmon, gives the CD its title. This is ravishingly beautiful, it might almost be by Strauss in autumnal mood.

I could cheerfully do without the next song ‘Follow the Colours: a marching song for soldiers’. It is rumty-tumty and commonplace but Henk Neven does his considerable best with it. One must remember that it was produced in the lead-up to WW1, when militaristic songs such as these were popular.

The next song is strange: It a setting of a poem written by Lady Elgar, to celebrate the opening of ‘The Kingsway’ in central London in 1909. Elgar raided the trio of his Pomp and Circumstance March No.4 for the purpose, and the splendid tune works well. However, the words illustrate the difference in social and political sensibilities that have occurred over the last 100 years. Now, I am usually the first to criticise people who refuse to listen to ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, or even Elgar’s 1st, so I will just say that the words and tune go very well together – had the subject been rather less prosaic than a new highway, the song might have survived.

The CD concludes with the incidental music to Grania and Diarmid, the central Funeral March at 7’13” is longer than the two outer sections put together and since I first heard it thirty years ago in Bryden Thomson’s LPO account on Chandos, I have regarded it as top-notch Elgar. It is included on this SOMM disc because of the third section song ‘There are seven that pull the thread’, and as with her other contributions, Kathryn Rudge does it full justice. Barry Wordsworth and the Orchestra play sensitively, and where necessary in the Funeral March, with considerable power and impact.
Throughout the CD, the balance between voice and orchestra is excellent, forward enough for the listener to hear the voice well, but not so forward as to sound artificially powerful.

The second CD is a short ‘freeby’ courtesy of the Elgar Society. Songs with piano accompaniment are presented by Nathalie de Montmollin and Barry Collett. Of Swiss birth but French residence, Ms. de Montmollin exhibits a mite too much vibrato for my taste. In addition, many of the words aren’t sung clearly, and her enunciation of English is occasionally suspect. This is a pity, because it reduced my appreciation of much of the disc. However, it’s free, so just enjoy!

Jim Westhead

Previous review: Michael Cookson


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