Elgar Sea Pictures
Just two days after the triumphant Norwich Festival premiere of Sea Pictures on October 5, 1899, Clara Butt and Edward Elgar joined forces again at St James's Hall in London for an afternoon recital in which all but one of the cycle's five songs were heard. This time, however, the composer was seated at the piano, and it is this alternative arrangement that that the husband-and-wife team of Claire-Louise Lucas and Jonathan Darnborough perform here. Inevitably, one does miss the myriad textural subtleties and flecks of colour in Elgar's painstaking orchestral canvas but Darnborough makes the most of the effectively tailored piano writing. More's the pity then that, by the side of Sarah Connolly's resplendent recent showing in the orchestral version (Naxos, 12/06), Lucas sounds overawed by the task in hand: not only does the voice lack personable warmth and projection (the sparing use of vibrato will not please everyone), her comparatively glacial manner provides insufficient emotional tug and seldom grips the imagination.
It's a similar tale throughout, I'm afraid. A shame, for the actual programme is well chosen (the two VW cycles contain some of his finest settings, not least “The New Ghost” and “The Water Mill”, the last two of the Four Poems by Fredegond Shove) and has been cleanly recorded within the resonant acoustic of St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton. Die-hard Elgarians may care to lend an ear to this more intimate slant on Sea Pictures; others should proceed with caution.