Elgar: Great is the Lord; Te Deum & Benedictus; Give unto the Lord; The Spirit of the Lord etc

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Great is the Lord; Te Deum & Benedictus; Give unto the Lord; The Spirit of the Lord etc
PERFORMER: Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell; Robert Quinney (organ)
Elgar wrote music for worship in his youth as organist of a Catholic parish church in Worcester, and later for grand Anglican occasions. But one way wonder how much his heart was in the everyday combination of choir and organ. Well over half of this selection was conceived with orchestral accompaniment. The big-boned Te Deum and Benedictus was written for the Three Choirs Festival, the intimate offertory hymn O hearken Thou for the 1911 Coronation, and the psalm Give unto the Lord for an orchestrally accompanied service in St Paul’s. The anthem ‘The Spirit of the Lord’ was extracted by Elgar’s publishers from the oratorio The Apostles. The psalm Great is the Lord was first performed with organ, but its echoes of the Violin Concerto suggest the orchestration it eventually received. Even the late, touching Queen Alexandra Memorial Ode was written with (now lost) military band accompaniment. There’s a surprising gap in the catalogue for a disc of these orchestral versions. Meanwhile, the Westminster Abbey Choir delivers its organ-accompanied programme with beautiful tonal colour and blend. But the enveloping Abbey acoustic takes the edge off attacks and diction. In a similar programme, the Choir of St John’s, Cambridge under Christopher Robinson takes advantage of a more immediate acoustic with singing of greater verbal clarity and energy, at more urgent tempos which seem better attuned to Elgar’s restless spirit. Anthony Burton