Elgar: The Hills of Dreamland
Grania and Diarmid – incidental music; Song Cycle, Op. 59; Two Songs, Op. 60; The Wind at Dawn; The King’s Way, etc.
Nathalie de Montmollin (soprano), Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano), Hank Neven (baritone), Barry Collett (piano); BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 271-2 90:30 mins (2 discs)
Hearing this is rather like browsing an unfamiliar, slightly disorderly photo album: real gems are mixed with lesser, though revealing shots, together with duds only a compulsive hoarder would keep. Yet altogether, these ‘snapshots’ offer an unusually rounded portrait of Elgar.
One strikingly effective song is ‘The Wind at Dawn’, Elgar’s 1888 setting of a poem by his soon-to-be wife Caroline Alice Roberts, heard in its magnificent 1912 orchestration, all the more memorable for mezzo Kathryn Rudge’s very distinctive singing. Indeed, Rudge generally has the best items, including the dramatic Op. 60 settings of Elgar’s own texts in ‘East European folk’ style; and the nobly restrained ‘Pleading’. Henk Neven, an adequate baritone, does not quite convincingly carry the very voice-led Op. 59 songs, nor ‘Follow the Colours’, admittedly a generic piece of bombast setting a hopelessly empty-headed text by a Captain William de Courcy Stretton. Nor can Rudge do much with ‘The King’s Way’, celebrating the opening of a new London boulevard, irredeemable even by Elgar recycling his fine trio from Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4. The haunting incidental music to Grania and Diarmid conjures an entirely different world, its Funeral March a clear precursor of Vaughan Williams’s ‘Dirge for Two Veterans’, followed by ‘There are seven that pull the thread’ movingly interpreted by Rudge. The performance by soprano Nathalie de Montmollin on the bonus disc could be better; Barry Collett – author of informative booklet notes – accompanies with panache.