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Elgar: The Spirit of England / Lloyd-Jones, BBC SO

Release Date: 03/20/2007 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 7172   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sir Edward ElgarCharles Hubert ParryLillian ElkingtonFrederick Septimus Kelly,   ... 
Performer:  Andrew KennedySusan Gritton
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony ChorusBBC Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ELGAR The Spirit of England. 1 PARRY The Chivalry of the Sea. 2 ELKINGTON Out of the Mist. KELLY Elegy for Strings, “ In Memoriam Rupert Brooke.” GURNEY War Elegy David Lloyd-Jones, cond; BBC SO; BBC Ch; 1,2 Read more Susan Gritton (sop); 1 Andrew Kennedy (ten) 1 DUTTON 7172 (69:00)

The Spirit of England (1915–17) was composed just before the Cello Concerto and the late chamber masterpieces, when Elgar’s art was at its most refined—and I suspect its unfamiliarity, at least in the United States, is due more to its unfortunate title than to any faults in the music or any special difficulties of performance. The title summons up images of patriotism and imperialistic pomp, images that are, especially in the current climate, apt to seem either distasteful or quaint. In fact, though, the work is one of Elgar’s most haunting—not a celebration of England’s might but a reaction to the nation’s losses in what must have seemed an increasingly incomprehensible war. It’s a complex reaction, too—partly an elegy, of course, but apparently partly a protest as well. The last movement begins in dark ambivalence; and in the Falstaffian interlude at its heart, beginning with the words “They went with songs into battle,” Elgar’s deliberate mismatch of music and meaning seems to look ahead to the bitter irony of “Out there, we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death” in Britten’s War Requiem . Even the peaceful conclusion of the work, following one of those gloriously expansive climaxes that only Elgar could pen, has a spectral quality that leaves you uneasy. All in all, one of Elgar’s most under-appreciated scores—vastly superior, say, to the more frequently recorded Music Makers.

This recording, only the third that I’ve run into, is plausibly advertised as the first to use a tenor in the middle movement (the others, conducted by Gibson and Hickox, opted for Elgar’s more economical alternative, with a single soloist). Some might find Lloyd-Jones’s conducting just a touch too tight, even aggressive, for the music; some might also find Andrew Kennedy’s vibrato a bit too intrusive. Still, there’s no doubt that the performance seethes with conviction, holding up to its rivals interpretively and far exceeding them in engineering.

But even if the Elgar performance were only middling, this would be a major issue—for it also includes first recordings of four other gripping works written in the shadows of the Great War. The most elaborate is Parry’s Chivalry of the Sea , a contrapuntally intricate essay that interleaves stark nobility, bluff affirmation, and memorial reflection in a way that threatens to turn incoherent, but that ultimately leaves you touched. Even more striking, though, is the uncompromising lamentation, Out of the Mist , by Lillian Elkington, another of those brilliant women artists who sacrificed music for marriage. Nothing radical for 1921 here, harmonically or rhythmically—but it’s impossible to listen to its stony progress toward a shattering climax without regret that so talented a composer chose to abandon her career. The other two works—a Butterworthian memorial to Rupert Brooke by Frederick Septimus Kelly (who was killed in action himself shortly thereafter) and an intense tone poem by Ivor Gurney (otherwise known almost exclusively for his songs)—may not produce quite the same impact, but they’re well worth knowing too. Like the Elgar, they all get powerful and committed performances.

The program notes by John Norris (for the Elgar) and Lewis Foreman (for the other works) are exemplary—and the engineering is excellent throughout. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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Works on This Recording

The Spirit of England, Op. 80 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Andrew Kennedy (Tenor), Susan Gritton (Soprano)
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Chorus,  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1915-1917; England 
The Chivalry of the Sea by Charles Hubert Parry
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Chorus,  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1916; England 
Out of the Mist by Lillian Elkington
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921; England 
Elegy for Strings "In Memoriam Rupert Brooke" by Frederick Septimus Kelly
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
War Elegy by Ivor Gurney
Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920 

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