SIR EDWARD ELGAR: The Crown of India; Imperial March; The Coronation March; The Empire March – Vocal soloists/ Barbara Marten, Deborah McAndrew, Joanne Mitchell – speakers/Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus/ BBC Philharmonic/Andrew Davis – Chandos (2 CDs)

by | Jan 30, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SIR EDWARD ELGAR: The Crown of India, Op. 66 (Orchestration completed by Anthony Payne); Imperial March; The Coronation March; The Empire March – Clare Shearer, mezzo soprano/ Gerald Finley, baritone/ Barbara Marten, speaker/ Deborah McAndrew, speaker/ Joanne Mitchell, speaker – Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus/ BBC Philharmonic/Sir Andrew Davis – Chandos CHAN 10570 (2 CDs), 75:09, 77:20 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:

Leave it to the British to take one of its great composers and resurrect a lost musical piece by commissioning a contemporary composer to complete the work. Then an English record company (Chandos) makes a stunning recording, the British record magazines do a bang up job of promoting it and sales of the work explode among Anglophiles. But does the musical and theatrical result merit the effort, or is this just a gimmick to make a few bucks?

In 1911 a ceremony in India, called the Durbar, commemorated the beginning of the construction of New Delhi. A British entrepreneur decided to stage a masque re-enacting the ceremony in London and Elgar was commissioned to write music for the event. Of all the British composers at the turn of the 20th Century, Edward Elgar’s music best expresses the British ceremonial voice. After all, he wrote the famous series of Pomp and Circumstance marches. The story of the masque is simple: Calcutta and Delhi are asking India to be named the capital. After stating their cases, the Emperor and Empress (King and Queen) choose Delhi as the capital and Calcutta as the principal city. There are a couple of arias and some choruses but most of the words are spoken by actors (representing the competing cities and royal personnel) with orchestral interludes. Some of Elgar’s original music was lost, and in 2007, the Elgar Society commissioned Anthony Payne to complete the orchestration so the work could be recorded in its entirety.  He’s the composer who completed Elgar’s Third Symphony. This two CD set contains the complete masque, the suite of music that Elgar composed (with one addition), and three of Elgar’s Marches.

The masque is valuable as an historical document, the words representing a phase of English history that communicates the righteousness that England felt as the conqueror of India and other parts of the world. Phrases such as “Lift aloft the Flag of England! ….Keep her ancient Honour bright, Her manhood ever glorious, Her Valour still victorious….” abound. This masque has nothing to do with India, but is rather a romanticized English vision of how glorious it is to have India part of the Empire. Having said this, the music adds emotion and beauty to the pageant and makes it easy to visualize.  It ranges from grandiose marches (March of the Mogul Emperors) to a delicate and evocative dance (Dance of the Nautch Girls) to a beautiful violin interlude between tableaus that serves as a humble sorbet to the main courses of English Imperial pomp. Elgar’s orchestration is appropriately grand, exuberant, and, at times, moving. The 57 minute suite alone is entertaining listening and Anthony Payne’s expansions are appropriately Elgarian. The Imperial March, Coronation March and Empire March are exciting fillers.

Kudos to the soloists, the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and the BBC Philharmonic and Andrew Davis for performances that are rousing, exciting and beautifully played. The balance between narrators and orchestra is excellent and the sound is typical of Chandos, which is to say, spectacular. So, yes, this CD is interesting historically and musically and is worth hearing. Elgar lovers and Anglophiles will need this and others can appreciate and enjoy it.

— Robert Moon

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