Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Elgar and his dogs


Sir Edward Elgar wrote some truly great music. Gerontius would be among my Desert Island Discs if not my sole Desert Island Disc, and the two genuine symphonies would probably be on that list as well. Among his undervalued masterpieces are The Kingdom, The Apostles, the Piano Quintet and the String Quartet. But like almost every other great composer except J.S. Bach, Elgar also produced some real dogs.

Among the dogs is his masque The Crown of India. You will get the feel of the piece when I explain it was written in 1912 to celebrate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Delhi for their coronation as Emperor and Empress of India. But perhaps I am being unfair to Elgar when I dismiss the work. It was only published in a piano and vocal score and the orchestral parts for the masque were destroyed in the 1960s. So we don't actually know what the full score sounds like in its original form.

At this point that serial completer Anthony Payne enters the story. He "completed" The Crown of India in 2008 and this version has been recorded for Chandos by Andrew Davis with the BBC Philharmonic, and the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, with the latter august body and the soloists being saddled with the cringe-inducing libretto by Henry Hamilton. I caught an extended excerpt on BBC Radio 3 this morning and all I can say is that whoever destroyed the orchestral parts in the 1960s was almost certainly doing Elgar's reputation a great favour.

But this should not detract from some of the other excellent things Chandos are currently doing, even if their website remains a model of opacity. Of particular note is a new disc of musiic by Guillaume Connesson with Stéphane Denève and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and a series of recordings of Luigi Dallapicolla's orchestral works. These should be available as downloads from the Chandos website, I just hope you have more luck finding them there than I did. More on Guillaume Connesson here, and Luigi Dallapiccola here.

Portrait of Elgar is by Michael Whittlesea. No CDs changed hands during the writing of this post. I hope someone at Chandos gets the message that their website is an excellent sales prevention tool. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

5 comments:

Drew80 said...

The five-movement orchestral suite Elgar created from music for the masque also survives. I have Barenboim's 1970's recording of "The Crown Of India" Suite. I have not listened to it since I was in high school, but I do not recall "The Crown Of India" Suite being particularly memorable, either, at least in Barenboim's hands.

Pliable said...

Email received:

Every great composer is allowed a dog or two. Look at Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory, or Wagner’s American Centennial March. Ick. (although, I do have a soft spot for Wellington’s Victory. It’s wonderfully noisy).

Cheers

David Cavlovic

Pliable said...

'Every great composer is allowed a dog or two...

Quite so, except JSB.

'If one were asked to name one musician who came closest to composing without human flaw, I suppose general consensus would choose Johann Sebastian Bach' - Aaron Copland

The Marches Hatter said...

From January's IRR: "With the spoken sections, The Crown of India lasts 75 minutes. I can't imagine Elgarians wanting to listen to to the 'complete' work more than once..."

Jean Echenoz' Ravel arrived yesterday but, after the Elgar post, I am now tempted to revisit James Hamilton-Paterson's Gerontius first!

davidderrick said...

Can't agree with the implied dismissal of Payne's E3. I hear plenty of real Elgar in it, some of it overpoweringly beautiful. His Pomp & C 6 was pathetic.