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