Elgar – Sea Pictures & Pageant of Empire

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar,Gurney,Hurd
LABELS: Dutton
WORKS: Elgar: Sea Pictures, Op. 37; Pageant of Empire (orch. Yates); Two Songs: The Pipes of Pan; The River, Op. 60 No. 1; Gurney: Lights Out (orch. Dibble); Hurd: Shore Leave
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams (baritone); BBC Concert Orchestra/Martin Yates
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7243

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 In this absorbing anthology of British orchestral songs, which splendidly showcases the vocal artistry of baritone Roderick Williams, Elgar bulks largest. We seldom hear Sea Pictures with a male voice, though Lewis Foreman’s notes suggest the cycle may reflect Elgar’s own feelings about the loss of his early love Helen Weaver, who left him to take the long sea voyage to New Zealand in 1885.

He also suggests that, sung by a man, the cycle is ‘more imperial in sentiment’, which makes it an apt coupling for Martin Yates’s realisation of the seven songs Elgar wrote for the 1924 Wembley Stadium Pageant of Empire.

The commission may have been routine jobbery for Elgar, but he clothes Poet Laureate Alfred Noyes’s hapless verses in better music than they deserve. (The booklet has no texts, but they’re available to download online.)

The recording also contains Ivor Gurney’s Edward Thomas cycle Lights Out – one of the most poignant musical responses to the Great War, given the fates of poet and composer – in an effective orchestral arrangement by Jeremy Dibble.

Gurney’s occasionally eccentric word-setting (every now and then a strange gabbled scansion, as we sometimes find in his own poems) hardly detracts from the cumulatively moving effect of these six songs (he had been three years in Dartford Insane Asylum when he composed the last one, ‘The Trumpet’).

Finally Michael Hurd, perhaps better known as Rutland Boughton’s biographer, reveals a striking lyric gift in his beautiful 1962 Charles Causley cycle Shore Leave, a real discovery in the finest tradition of English song.

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This disc has Dutton’s quintessential features of thoughtful, original programming and high production values. Calum MacDonald