WORKS: The Pipes of Pan; Queen Mary’s Song; The River; A Child Asleep; In the Dawn; The Poet’s Life
PERFORMER: Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Neil Mackie (tenor), Christopher Maltman (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 220
If you’ve more than a passing interest in Elgar, this disc should be on your shelves. Recordings of his songs are comparatively rare and four of these 23 tracks are not found elsewhere.
Jerrold Northrop Moore’s illuminating booklet notes, supplemented by his Edward Elgar: a Creative Life, greatly enhanced my appreciation. Elgar’s songs rarely received his best musical inspiration, but it’s fascinating to see how they punctuate his life, and to gain flashes of insight, through their melodic contours, into the gestation of the major works. Two unfinished song cycles written in 1909-10, for instance, went into the melting pot for his Violin Concerto (1910).
There are some charming early songs, and plenty of hand-on-heart heroics in ‘The Wind at Dawn’, to words by his then fiancée. Other songs display Elgar’s melancholy. Martineau heightens the weary mood in the piano postlude of ‘Twilight’ (‘It is deadly dull here and enough to drive one to despair’, wrote Elgar around this time) by delaying the final chord so long that it almost seems he’s lost the will to finish.
The singers enter wholeheartedly into the idiom, their marked rubatos giving a real turn-of-the-century feel. You can’t imagine these recordings having been made in anything less than full evening dress, and an aspidistra must surely have been lurking nearby. Janet Banks