From the Bavarian Highlands; Five Part-songs from the Greek Anthology, Op. 45; The Reveille, Op. 54; Spanish Serenade; Go, song of mine, etc.
Radoslaw Szulc, Julita Smoleń (violin); Bavarian Radio Choir/Howard Arman; Max Hanft (piano)
BR Klassik 900522 65:37 mins
A German choir performing Elgar’s partsongs in English? Doubts dissolve mere seconds into From the Bavarian Highlands, where the infectious pointing of dance rhythms in the opening song of the cycle, and the lilting playing of pianist Max Hanft, draw the listener effortlessly in.
At 50 voices, the Bavarian Radio Choir is fairly large, but shows a chamber-like delicacy of nuance in ‘False Love’, with open, airy vowels and intelligently contoured phrasing. The choir’s English conductor Howard Arman – currently in his fifth season as artistic director – clearly has much to do with this. ‘Lullaby’ is delightfully light-spirited, ‘The Marksman’ lusty without sacrificing the ensemble’s trademark warmth of tone and equitable balancing of voice parts.
In addition to the six Bavarian Highlands songs, there are 14 further settings. Of these, the a cappella Five Partsongs from the Greek Anthology are particularly successful, eliciting incisive, sharply insightful interpretations from the choir’s male voices. Three songs have parts for two violins – they add a playful, almost slinky counterpoint to ‘Spanish Serenade’ – and a further four are unaccompanied. These include the poignant ‘They Are at Rest’ and ‘The Prince of Sleep’, both given movingly restrained performances.
The choir’s English is immaculate and the booklet notes are informative, with full texts printed. Do not hesitate if you want to push your knowledge of Elgar into largely unfamiliar territory.