ELGAR: The Apostles – Hallé Orchestra/ Hallé Choir and YouthChoir/soloists/ Sir Mark Elder – Hallé Records (2 CDs)

by | May 22, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

EDWARD ELGAR: The Apostles – Hallé Orchestra/ Hallé Choir and Youth Choir/soloists/ Sir Mark Elder – Hallé Records HLD7534 (Distr. by Allegro), 114: 29 (two CDs) ****:

Sir Edward Elgar is known mainly for a small number of very well known, revered works, of which the “Enigma” Variations, the Cello Concerto , the Symphony No. 1 and – well, of course – the Pomp and Circumstance  Marches are arguably the best known.What is not as widely known is that Elgar felt a great affinity for both the English cathedral choir tradition and also to large baroque vocal forms, such as oratorios. Elgar wrote three oratorios in fairly traditional style but with his own lush, plaintive “English” harmonic vocabulary and long-line melodies. Each of the Elgar oratorios – The Dream of Gerontius, The Kingdom and The Apostles – takes its text from Biblical sources and Christian tradition. Of the three, it is probably the present one, The Apostles, which is the least well known. In his lifetime, Elgar was quite successful with the Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius. Thereupon, the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival, which had also produced Gerontius, commissioned him to write new choral work. Elgar took advantage of this to write on a subject he had been contemplating. The Apostles, like its predecessor The Kingdom, tells of the disciples of Jesus and their reactions to the extraordinary events they witnessed.

The text is narrative, not role-played, dealing with Christ’s appointing of the Apostles and relating their experiences of Jesus teaching, crucifixion (not depicted in the libretto), and ascension. The Kingdom then carries the story into the post-Ascension and heaven. Elgarhimself was a serious Christian and was fascinated by the human side of biblical characters and what motivated them; therefore there are fairly complete discussions/depictions in the text of the controversial Mary Magdalene and the betrayer Judas Iscariot. Interestingly, The Kingdom was first envisioned as the last part of The Apostles, but later Elgar considered them as the first two parts of a trilogy to a third oratorio that was never written.

The performances are very fine and Mark Elder has been an expert Elgar interpreter for awhile now. The Hallé Orchestra plays as well as they always have in their decades-long rich history. I think this recording will be much appreciated by true Elgar aficionados. The music is lovely and the text is engaging – although it helps if one is already attunedto the New Testament. This is probably not Elgar’s most engaging work;even among the oratorios I prefer both Gerontius and The Kingdom. It is just a little dull in places but it is a lovely work. I have always loved Elgar and I do think that this may be the recording to have  (although that of Richard Hickox and the London Sinfonietta is quite nice).  This work best appeals to lovers of Elgar and his style, which is always beautiful and teeters constantly between placid and melancholy.

—Daniel Coombs

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