ELGAR: The Kingdom – Solists/ Halle Orchestra & Choir/ Mark Elder – Halle

by | Mar 18, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

ELGAR: The Kingdom – Claire Rutter (Virgin Mary)/ Susan Bickley (Mary Magdalene)/ John Hudson (St. John)/ Iain Paterson (St. Peter)/ Halle Orchestra & Choir/ Mark Elder – Halle HLD 7526 (2 CDs), 94:17 [Distr. by Allegro] ***1/2:
The Kingdom, Elgar’s last oratorio, and the second of an incomplete trilogy that began with The Apostles, is not the pinnacle of his career even though it does represent a certain standard of English oratorio. There is much music here that is quite lovely, even immensely inspired in places, but for those allergic to English Victorian lugubriousness much of this work will prove difficult.
Those who think that Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Enigma Variation as representing the best of this composer, or at least his most cosmopolitan, are not far from right. But most of his compositional output is not as these two pieces; most of it, including the symphonies in my opinion, are inundated with that staunch Englishness that turns many off and absolutely enthralls many others. I can’t say I am in the latter group, but neither do I qualify for the former; there are many times when I enjoy this aspect of Elgar’s art, and there is no doubt that he was a very fine composer, if not the height of British music.
Having said this, what to make of The Kingdom? Like I said, there is much to admire here, and I would consider this as the most tightly-knit, dramatic and persuasive choral composition, with the exception of The Dream of Gerontius, that Elgar created. Especially noteworthy is the solo singing, some of the most exquisite he ever wrote, as lyrical as any of his many wonderful songs. So consequently the soloists are vitally important, and this is a very fine group. They probably do not top the classic Boult recording, but overall they match up nicely and the sound on this release is far superior.
For those who love Elgar or this work, this new release will fill the shelf nicely.
—Steven Ritter

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