The ‘Longed-for Light: Elgar’s Music in Wartime

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COMPOSERS: Edward Elgar
ALBUM TITLE: The ‘Longed-for Light: Elgar’s Music in Wartime
WORKS: Polonia, Carillon, Une voix dans le désert, Carissima, La drapeau Belge, Rosemary, The Sanguine Fan, Sursum Corda and Sospiri
PERFORMER: Simon Callow (speaker), Susan Gritton (soprano); BBC Concert Orchestra/John Wilson


Elgar spent much of the First World War in a state of depression and despair, and wrote little music. But in support of allied nations he composed Polonia, a stirring fantasia incorporating quotations of Polish themes, and three works with spoken texts translated from the French of the Belgian poet Emile Cammaerts. The first of them, Carillon, was an unexpected hit with the British public. For a Chelsea fund-raising event, he also produced a delightful ballet score The Sanguine Fan (recently published in a handsome volume of the Elgar Society Edition).

These works don’t quite fill a disc and they’re augmented here by various shorter pieces, mostly from the pre-war period and one, Sursum corda, even from the 1890s. Instead, wouldn’t it have been worth co-opting a choir for part of the noble Spirit of England or its little-known post-war offshoot With Proud Thanksgiving?

Programming quibbles apart there’s much for Elgarians to enjoy here. Simon Callow declaims in the grand manner, clearly sharing the performances and pleasingly resonant acoustic with the excellent orchestra. Susan Gritton is an appealing ‘voice in the wilderness’. John Wilson’s trademark lightness of touch sets the ‘dignified’ opening of Carillon swinging along like a Viennese waltz, but it suits charming miniatures such as Carissima and Rosemary, intensifies the poignancy of Sospiri, and brings The Sanguine Fan to life.


Anthony Burton