Elgar, JS Bach

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ALBUM TITLE: Hallé: Elgar/ JS Bach
WORKS: The Music Makers
PERFORMER: Jane Irwin (mezzo-soprano); Hallé Choir & Orchestra/Mark Elder
Mark Elder’s recent recordings with the Hallé have established him as one of our finest contemporary Elgarians; this disc takes that process a stage further. As the lyric epilogue to the composer’s glory years from Enigma and Gerontius, The Music Makers is no easy work to bring off. Though every bar is deeply felt and it contains some wonderful inspirations, O’Shaughnessy’s text (its opening lines apart) is hardly top-drawer poetry, and the closely-woven reminiscences of familiar ideas from earlier works risks seeming a mere patchwork by a composer whose original invention was on the ebb. But the assemblage of disparate ideas is a kind of enactment of the way that Elgar actually composed; and in a work whose subject is inspiration, the making of music, they have clear symbolic value.


In the event, Elder maintains a tension and sense of belief that The Music Makers very seldom receives. Beautifully balanced and superbly paced, this deeply sympathetic and intensely-felt reading is perhaps the most convincing I have ever heard. It seems to me to surpass the versions of Davis, Hickox and Bryden Thomson, all estimable in their way but deficient either in balance or fire. The recorded sound on Adrian Boult’s classic reading is no match for this new Hallé version, but he does have Janet Baker in peak form as soloist, and Jane Irwin, excellent though she is, is not yet quite in that league. The couplings, especially an unusually cogent and exciting Froissart, are a delight to hear. Calum MacDonald