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Elgar: The Reeds by Severnside – Choral Works

Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea/William Vann; Joshua Ryan (organ) (SOMM)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Elgar – The Reeds by Severn Side
Motets, Op. 2; Give unto the Lord; Queen Alexandra Memorial Ode etc
Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea/William Vann;
Joshua Ryan (organ)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 278   79:47 mins

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If the first track on this release sounds like Mozart, that’s because it mainly is. It’s a Gloria adapted by the 15-year-old Elgar from a Mozart violin sonata, breezily dispatched on this new recording by the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

There are other juvenilia here too, including a Credo where Elgar stitches together snippets from Beethoven’s Fifth, Seventh and Ninth symphonies for four-part choir and organ. Interesting to completists, perhaps, but not essential listening.

The sweetly lyrical O Salutaris Hostia and the Op. 2 motets show the self-taught Elgar beginning to break the shackles of the masters, and elicit warm, attentively inflected performances from William Vann and his 20 singers.

Among the mature pieces, ‘As Torrents in Summer’ impresses in the scrupulous balancing of voice-parts, and the subtle dynamic shadings Vann uses to create interest. Similarly the eight-part ‘There is Sweet Music’, with particularly memorable contributions from the sopranos and tenors.

‘Give unto the Lord’, a setting of Psalm 29, is Elgar in more muscular mode, and the choir clearly relishes its ebullient surges of temperament. Again, though, articulation is pleasingly consistent, with no clipping of note values in more animated sections. Joshua Ryan’s marshalling of the important organ part adds further heft to a pleasingly cohesive performance.

The recorded sound is excellent, as are Andrew Neill’s booklet notes on the music. All told, this is another feather in the cap for the increasingly impressive Vann-Royal Hospital Chelsea partnership.

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Terry Blain