Elgar: Fringes of the Fleet

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Somm
WORKS: The Fringes of the Fleet; Elegy for Strings; plus works by Ansell, Ireland, Haydn Wood & German
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams, Nicholas Lester, Duncan Rock, Laurence Meikle (baritone); Guildford PO/Tom Higgins
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 243

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The plum in this diverting collection of mainly nautically-inspired music is the first modern recording of Elgar’s song-cycle for four baritones, Fringes of the Fleet. This tribute to naval auxiliaries sets four poems by Rudyard Kipling and was staged as part of a revue in London’s Coliseum in 1917.

Though highly popular at the time, its career was stymied by Kipling, taking against his own patriotic verses after his son was killed, who forbade further performances. It’s attractive stuff, if not a major discovery – like most of Elgar’s wartime works it requires some imaginative sympathy with its historical context – but every Elgarian will want it. He had added a remarkable fifth song to words by Gilbert Parker for the four voices unaccompanied; that is also here, as well as a separate Kipling setting, ‘Big Steamers’, in contrasted treatments by Elgar and Edward German.

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The programme is rounded out with the Elegy for strings, works by Haydn Wood, two World War I songs by John Ireland that give Roderick Williams his finest moments here, and two nautical overtures by John Ansell: I was glad to re-encounter, after about 40 years, his rollicking Plymouth Hoe, aeons ago a regular on the BBC’s Friday Night is Music Night. Conductor Tom Higgins, who made the arrangements of some items, directs enthusiatic and characterful performances. Calum MacDonald