COMPOSERS: Brian & Purcell,Bridge,Dyson,Elgar,Howells
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Elgar and the English Choral Tradition
WORKS: The Spirit of England; Sine nomine; The Blacksmiths
PERFORMER: Soloists; Royal Liverpool PO & Chorus/Douglas Bostock
CATALOGUE NO: CLASSCD 456
Douglas Bostock’s expert nose for neglected British music has sniffed out some rare and valuable truffles on this expedition. Elgar himself is represented only by an adaptation of part of the noble wartime cantata The Spirit of England, and an all-too-solid orchestration of a Latin psalm setting by Purcell. But he also figures as an admirer of Havergal Brian’s early and decidedly un-pastoral setting of Psalm 23, and as the commissioner of Herbert Howells’s ecstatically wordless rhapsody Sine nomine for the 1922 Three Choirs Festival. However, in its musical language the Howells seems to owe more to Holst – as does Frank Bridge’s pacifist Prayer, written during the First World War. And George Dyson’s 1934 setting of the medieval poem ‘The Blacksmiths’ strikes an astonishing fierce and individual tone, suggesting a composer deserving further investigation.
Unfortunately, the music is not uniformly presented to best advantage, perhaps because of a shortage of rehearsal and session time: the soloists are variable, the chorus sounds tentative in places and has little variety of colour and dynamics, and the recording is oddly lacking in focus. But you won’t find any of this music anywhere else on disc, and it is well worth hearing. Anthony Burton