Kod‡ly, Elgar

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar,Kodaly
LABELS: Somm
WORKS: The Music Makers; Summer Evening
PERFORMER: Christina Wilson (mezzo-soprano); Oxford Orchestra da Camera & Choir/Howard Williams
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 230
Forget received opinion. There’s a good deal more to Elgar’s The Music Makers than an orgy of nostalgic

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self-quotation. But it remains a perplexing work – or at least it does as long as one takes the words at face value. Elgar’s choice of texts is often criticised, but in this case there may have been an element of self-subversion. If Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s rumpty-tumpty optimism about artists as eternal ‘movers and shakers’ seems hard to credit on its own terms, how much more hollow it sounds when married to Elgar’s melancholy music. It’s not that The Music Makers doesn’t aspire at times, but you’re more likely to remember the dying falls, the sweetly pained harmonies – even the ‘Enigma’ theme sounds sadder and more resigned than at any point in the famous Variations. Conductor Howard Williams and his team try hard on Elgar’s behalf – mezzo Christina Wilson contributes a few stirring moments later on – but regret often seems to decline into leaden weariness; and there are some ragged edges in the orchestral playing. Andrew Davis on Telarc has a much more balanced, rounded – and more ultimately moving – conception of the work, and it’s far better recorded. The Somm disc also offers the first-ever recording of Kodály’s setting of the same text – workmanlike, intermittently appealing, but no neglected masterpiece – and the surprisingly Vaughan Williams-ish Summer Evening. The performances are reasonably effective, though choir and orchestra sound as though they are saving their best efforts for the Elgar. Stephen Johnson