Elgar; Songs for Voice and Piano, Vol. 1

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Channel
ALBUM TITLE: Elgar
WORKS: Songs for Voice and Piano, Vol. 1: Sea Pictures; The Self-Banished;
Like to the Damask Rose; Queen Mary’s Song; A Song of Autumn etc

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PERFORMER: Amanda Roocroft (soprano), Konrad Jarnot (baritone), Reinild Mees (piano)

CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 27507 (hybrid CD/SACD)

While at least half a dozen of Elgar’s choral partsongs are masterpieces, his output for solo voice and piano strikes a more conventional tone. Channel Classics’s Volume 1, like David Owen Norris’s two-volume anthology of songs and piano music on Avie, tries to anchor the collection with the smaller-scale version of Sea Pictures. The difference this time is striking, banishing memories of mezzos and contraltos from Butt to Baker in all but ‘Where corals lie’ – the piano writing is no substitute here for the fastidious orchestration – and the drama of the final ‘The Swimmer’. Konrad Jarnot, who has also performed baritone versions of Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Ravel’s Shéhérazade, is mesmerising in the opening slumber, and with noble tones from pianist Reinid Mills he makes Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sabbath Morning at Sea’ more persuasive than I’ve ever heard it.

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Jarnot also caresses the two most persuasive songs in the rest of the programme. ‘Like to the Damask Rose’ and ‘Queen Mary’s Song’. Amanda Roocroft does her best to keep the rest direct and the diction clear, but it’s not a hugely rewarding task; her best melody, the Canto Popolare from In the South, has Shelley’s poetry, too, but applied after the original had been composed, so it sits relatively uncomfortably. Mees is clean and bright in the rather undistinguished piano parts, assisted by Channel Classics’s full and natural recital ambience. David Nice