ELGAR The Longed-for Light. Elgar’s music in wartime. Simon Callow, Susan Gritton, BBC Concert Orchestra / John Wilson. Somm

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Elgar The Longed-For Light Elgar Concert Orchestra John Wilson Somm

  • Elgar The Longed-For Light Elgar Concert Orchestra John Wilson Somm
  • Elgar The Longed-For Light Elgar Concert Orchestra John Wilson Somm
  • Elgar The Longed-For Light Elgar Concert Orchestra John Wilson Somm

EDWARD ELGAR The Longed-for Light

Elgar’s music in wartime

1 Polonia Op. 76 13:20

2 Carillon Op. 75, for speaker & orchestra 8:27

3 Sospiri Op. 70 4:52

4 Une Voix dans le Désert Op. 77 11:05

5 Carissima 3:52

6 Le Drapeau Belge Op. 79 for speaker, soprano & orchestra 3:27

7 Rosemary 3:29

8 The Sanguine Fan Op. 81 17:59

9 Sursum Corda Op. 11 8:39

Simon Callow, speaker

Susan Gritton, soprano

BBC Concert Orchestra / John Wilson

Elgar was living in Hampstead with his wife and daughter when the Great War began in August 1914. He was 57 years old. Although too old to participate militarily he did what he could and, early in the war, served as a Special Constable. Later on he joined the Hampstead Volunteer Reserve. He was not suited to either role and served in neither capacity for long. His greatest contribution to the war was as a composer and conductor; often embarking on exhausting conducting tours with the LSO. As a composer his music can be divided into either that of an escapist nature or that composed directly for the war effort.

SOMM’s new compact disc contains music of both forms and offers a comprehensive survey of Elgar’s music that was composed or arranged mostly during this period. His ballet score, The Sanguine Fan, composed for a London charity in 1917 is the most substantial music on the disc and, in its story of Pan and Echo, could not be more ‘escapist’. Much of Elgar’s music for the war was not so much in support of Britain but for Belgium and Poland. Three settings of poems for orator and orchestra by the Belgian émigré poet, Emile Cammaerts, were composed between 1914 and 1917. Carillon, from December 1914, a setting of a poem about the destruction of Belgium’s bell towers, became the most successful of the three settings whilst Le Drapeau Belge first performed in 1917 failed to make an impact. By then Britain was absorbed by its own need for survival and concern for Belgium had become of secondary importance. Une Voix dans le Désert, the finest and most complex of the three settings, combines the voice of the narrator and a beautiful song for soprano. Soldiers, trudging across a devastated landscape, hear a girls voice within the ruins of a farm-house, singing of the long-for spring’.

In Polonia, from 1915, described as ‘the most outstanding, dramatic and nobly patriotic musical gesture for the Polish cause’, Elgar mixes patriotic themes with music by Chopin, Paderewski and original material.

Shorter pieces on the disc include the charming Carissima from January 1914 and was first performed when Elgar made his first gramophone recording. Sospiri was premiered shortly after the declaration of war and was described by Alice Elgar as lovely like a breath of peace on a perturbed world’ whilst Elgar’s orchestration of Rosemary (That’s for Remembrance) took on a poignancy unimagined when composed in 1882. Sursum Corda (Lift up your hearts) is also an early work from 1894. It is a serious, reflective, piece, in keeping with the theme of the disc, the title of which is from a letter by Elgar written to a friend in December 1914.

- Andrew Neill September 2012

Somm SOMM247

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