Elgar: The Crown of India

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: The Crown of India (completed A Payne); Coronation March; Empire March; Imperial March
PERFORMER: Finley (baritone), Barbara Marten, Deborah McAndrew, Joanne Mitchell (speaker); Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus; BBC Phil/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10570

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Elgar enthusiasts know The Crown of India from the orchestral suite the composer extracted from its parent work – an ‘Imperial Masque’ presented at the Coliseum Theatre, inspired by the December 1911 Delhi Durbar held by George V. Anthony Payne, building on his labours with the Third Symphony and Pomp and Circumstance No. 6, completed the orchestration of the missing full score and we can now hear the original work in its full glory. 

Twice, in fact: for Chandos gives us the music both with, and without, the spoken verse interludes and voice-overs – a desirable alternative given our likely limit of tolerance to Henry Hamilton’s texts.

They’re not quite awful, but the basic idea is silly (the cities of Calcutta and Delhi argue before their mother India which one of them has the right to be the Imperial capital), and the style complacent jingoistic fustian.

The music, on the other hand, is from start to finish authentic middling Elgar, highly enjoyable and well worth revival. Most of the best bits are in the familiar suite – but not the marvellous ‘Crown of India March’. Gerald Finley shines as St George in ‘The Rule of England’, however embarrassing the words. 

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The three stand-alone marches which appear as fillers on disc 2 are thrown off with tremendous panache by Andrew Davis and the BBC Philharmonic. The 1924 Empire March (whose trio tune has reappeared in the Elgar/Payne Pomp and Circumstance No. 6) is not quite top-drawer Elgar, the remarkable 1911 Coronation March, perhaps the least joyous coronation march ever written, confirms itself in this performance as a masterpiece that is on a par with any movement from the symphonies. Calum MacDonald