Elgar: The Apostles
One so wants The Apostles to be a masterpiece; yet even in a performance as inspired as this, it doesn’t quite measure up. Much of Part II is vintage Elgar (Judas gets the greatest music, showing what an opera Elgar might have written at that time if he had been able to escape the demands of the post-Victorian oratorio market) and the final scene, with its terraced choral writing, can, as here, be overwhelming. But despite some wonderful pages, too much of Part I is wordy, worthy and discursive. Still, there are always the pleasures of the orchestration and Elgar’s increasingly fluent and resourceful weaving of the store of leitmotifs that will have their finest hour in The Kingdom, originally planned as Part III of The Apostles, but mostly composed before it. Everyone who cares about Elgar should know this ambitious, high-minded, uneven work, and this impressive new Hallé set is a superb introduction to it.
It derives largely from a live performance in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall in May this year. All pains were taken to ensure authenticity, with a genuine shofar for the ‘Dawn’ music in Part I; a semi-chorus of exactly nine voices makes up the 12 apostles together with the named soloists Peter, Judas and John. It has all the tension and excitement of live performance, rising to incandescence in the closing pages, and Mark Elder has perfect control of the large forces and dramatic pacing. Brindley Sherratt is an affecting, dark-voiced, haunted Judas, Jacques Imbrailo an authoritative Jesus; among the female soloists Alice Coote, doubling as Mary Magdalene and Second Narrator, deserves special mention. Despite the great virtues of Adrian Boult’s now-elderly reading (EMI) and Richard Hickox’s more recent one (Chandos), I’m inclined to rate this new Hallé version the most nearly definitive Apostles yet.