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Elgar: Songs & Piano Music / Norris, Pitt, Wilde, Savidge


Release Date: 09/18/2007 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2129   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen NorrisAmanda PittMark WildePeter Savidge,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



ELGAR 7 Lieder. 1,2 A War Song. 3 Is she not passing fair? 2 As I laye a-thinkynge. 1 The Wind at Dawn. 1 After. 1 Dry those fair, those crystal eyes. 3 The Pipes of Pan. 3 Sea Read more Pictures. 1 Come, Gentle Night. 1 In the Dawn. 2 Speak, Music. 2 Arabian Serenade. 3 In Moonlight. 1 Pleasing. 2 O soft was the song. 1 The Fringes of the Fleet. 3,4 It isnae me. 2 XTC. Salut d’amour. Caractacus: Woodland Interlude. Dream of Gerontius: Prelude and Angel’s Farewell. Dream Children. “?” David Owen Norris (square piano); Amanda Pitt (sop); 1 Marke Wilde (ten); 2 Peter Savidge (bar); 3 Mark Bamping (bar); 4 William Houghton (bar); 4 Edward Whiffin (bar) 4 AVIE 2129 (2 CDs: 139:39 Text and Translation)


The Elgar celebrations will, no doubt, continue to bring their share of surprises. But as I write in late May, I’m willing to bet that even by the end of the year, this set will still stand out as one of more curious discographic contributions to the hoopla. The back-story: for several fruitful years at the turn of the 20th century, Elgar did much of his composing (including work on Caractacus, Sea Pictures , and Gerontius ) at Birchwood Lodge in Worcestershire. As we learn from Norris’s excellent notes, Elgar’s piano at this retreat was an 1844 square Broadwood acquired from his father’s shop. That beloved instrument, restored by David Hunt, is currently owned by the Royal Academy of Music, and serves as the anchor for this two-CD set—featuring a group known corporately as “The Works”—which traces Elgar’s output nearly chronologically from his apprentice days to his taciturn final years.


It’s an interesting conception, but I suspect that most ordinary listeners will find the release problematic for at least two reasons. First, there’s the repertoire. Elgar’s piano music is not especially notable: his original works for the instrument are largely second rate, and the transcriptions that make up the bulk of the solo music here only make you long for the orchestral versions. There’s good reason, too, why Elgar’s songs have generally attracted neither performers nor audiences. ( Sea Pictures is the exception—and even that’s normally heard in its voice-and-orchestra guise.) There are a few moments where they recall familiar gestures from Elgar’s masterpieces, and a few flashes of inspiration (the harmonies at the beginning of Wind at Dawn , for instance). But more often than not, the music of the songs matches the emotional superficialities of their usually sub-Tennysonian texts (“For we are tired and fain aside would lay/The cares and burdens that surround the day”), bathing us in Victorian musical commonplaces that rarely move and never wound. Indeed, sometimes the music saps what few spasms of vitality there are in the poetry. War Song , by C. Flavell Hayward (try tracking him down in your Norton Anthology ), may be several levels beneath contempt—but at least the poem has a certain trajectory of mood, a trajectory that the music clumsily flattens. Grainger might have been able to do something with this poem; Elgar cannot.


The best poetry by far comes in In Moonlight , which uses an abridgment of Shelley’s To Jane (the poem that begins, in the full version, with “The keen stars were twinkling”). You might expect it to get the best setting, and in a sense it does. But in this case, the music—the famous “ canto popolare ” interlude from In the South —was written first; the words were (rather awkwardly) grafted on afterwards. In fact, the only vocal music that really catches fire is the hearty and entirely atypical bolt of wartime khaki, Fringes of the Fleet , based on Kipling.


The second problem with this project is, alas, its very raison d’être , the piano itself. There’s always some novelty value, of course, in hearing a composer’s instrument, but Norris makes stronger claims. He suggests not only that the Broadwood serves as “a guide to the sounds in (Elgar’s) mind” but even that the music sounds for the most part better on this instrument than it does on a modern piano. Among other things, that’s because of its “individual speaking voice,” the clarity of its textures, and the “temporal dislocation” of its arpeggios. It’s hard to agree. While the instrument might illuminate Clementi or Hummel or Gottschalk, it was already outmoded by the time Elgar took possession, and it seems strained by the richness of Elgar’s writing. Its plucked quality (what I imagine Norris is talking about when he refers to “temporal dislocation”) breaks the sustained lines, its indistinct bass undermines the music’s harmonic motion, and its somewhat muddy middle register blurs the counterpoint. Norris praises its handling of tremolos—but as I hear it, the tremolos are consistently creaky. The 15 minutes of Gerontius , largely identical to the piano part in the vocal score, are especially dispiriting: indeed, with so much of the key vocal material simply abandoned by the wayside, the glory of the closing pages is reduced to rubble. Even a single disc would probably have been more than enough for most listeners; two generous discs seem like overkill.


Still, specialists will find the set of interest. Besides a chance to hear the piano itself and to hear some rarely encountered songs ( As I laye a-thinkynge from 1887 gets what’s advertised as its first recording), the disc offers some interesting alternative readings drawn from manuscript sources of Sea Pictures (detailed in the notes) as well as two previously unrecorded miniatures from Elgar’s later years. The mysteriously titled “?” is a sketch of what became the first theme of the Cello Concerto (rehearsal 1 to rehearsal 7). Elgar eventually removed some redundancy—it’s nearly a third longer than what Elgar wisely arrived at. Unfortunately, while it gives an uncanny sense that we’re overhearing the composer at work, it’s too close to the final version to give us real insight into his compositional processes. XTC (Elgar’s shorthand for “Ecstasy”) is an unfinished song from 1930, put together (presumably by Norris) from two surviving sketches. It’s a poignant bit of nostalgia, and provides an excellent closing to the collection.


Performances throughout are persuasive. Amanda Pitt sometimes runs into slight intonation problems, especially at the top of her register, but she sings with such heartfelt conviction that she often manages to transcend the Victorian bathos. Mark Wilde and Peter Savidge are equally impressive, presenting the music with clarity of both gesture and enunciation. Norris supports them well, and holds his own in the solo music. Production values are top-notch, with excellent engineering, informative notes, and texts of all the songs. For the curious—the very curious.


FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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Works on This Recording

1.
Like to the damask rose by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano), Mark Wilde (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; England 
2.
Queen Mary's Song by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano), Mark Wilde (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; England 
3.
A Song of Autumn by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano), Mark Wilde (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; England 
4.
The Poet's Life by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano), Mark Wilde (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; England 
5.
Through the long days, Op. 16 no 2 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano), Mark Wilde (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1885; England 
6.
Rondel, Op. 16 no 3 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano), Mark Wilde (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; England 
7.
Shepherd's Song, Op. 16 no 1 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano), Mark Wilde (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; England 
8.
A War Song, Op. 5 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Peter Savidge (Baritone)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
Notes: Composition written: England (1884 - 1903). 
9.
Is she not Passing Fair? by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Mark Wilde (Tenor), David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; England 
10.
As I laye a-thynkynge by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; England 
11.
Salut d'amour, Op. 12 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888/1889; England 
Notes: Version: Ver. Piano 
12.
The Wind at Dawn by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Amanda Pitt (Soprano), David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; England 
13.
After, Op. 31 no 1 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1895; England 
14.
Caractacus, Op. 35: Woodland Interlude by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1897-1898; England 
15.
Dry those fair, those crystal eyes by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Peter Savidge (Baritone), David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1899; England 
16.
Pipes of Pan by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Peter Savidge (Baritone), David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1899-1900; England 
17.
Sea Pictures, Op. 37 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1897-1899; England 
18.
The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38: Prelude by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1899-1900; England 
Notes: This selection is part of a medley which also includes "The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38: Softly and Gently "Angel's Farewell"." 
19.
The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38: Softly and Gently "Angel's Farewell" by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1899-1900; England 
Notes: This selection is part of a medley which also includes "The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38: Prelude." 
20.
Come, gentle night by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901; England 
21.
Songs (2), Op. 41: no 1, In the dawn by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Mark Wilde (Tenor), David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901; England 
22.
Dream Children, Op. 43 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1902; England 
23.
Arabian Serenade by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Peter Savidge (Baritone), David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1914; England 
24.
In moonlight by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904; England 
25.
Pleading, Op. 48 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Mark Wilde (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1908; England 
26.
Song Cycle, Op. 59: no 3, Oh, Soft was the Song by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano), Amanda Pitt (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1909-1910; England 
27.
The Fringes of the Fleet by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Mark Bamping (Tenor), William Houghton (Bass Baritone), Edward Whiffen (Baritone),
Peter Savidge (Baritone), Edward Whiffin (Voice), Mark Bamping (Baritone),
William Houghton (Baritone), David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1917; England 
28.
"?" by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  David Owen Norris (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1918; England 
29.
It isnae me? by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Mark Wilde (Tenor), David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1930; England 
30.
XTC by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Amanda Pitt (Soprano), David Owen Norris (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Works
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1930; England 

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