ELGAR The Apostles – Elder
Sir Mark Elder and his Hallé forces continue to set stellar standards in large-scale Elgar and this new recording of the frequently inspired 1903 oratorio The Apostles fully matches the qualities of their Gramophone Award-winning account of its successor, The Kingdom (12/10). Not only does Elder obtain playing and singing of the utmost accomplishment and sensitivity, his hugely penetrating interpretation evinces an idiomatic pliancy, sure dramatic instinct and iron grip (the magnificent final climax to ‘The Ascension’ has a giant inevitability about it), as well as scrupulous fidelity to both the letter and spirit of the score.
Elder has also gone to considerable lengths to fulfil the composer’s specific request for an ‘Apostolic Choir’, namely a semi-chorus comprising nine male voices to complement the regular soloists assigned the parts of John, Peter and Judas; all are young singers studying either at the RNCM or Manchester University and their contribution is a most eloquent one. Elder’s meticulous preparation for the task in hand extends to his employment of a genuine shofar player in the dawn and sunrise music of ‘The Calling of the Apostles’, where there’s no disputing the frisson of excitement as the ram’s horn cuts through the busy orchestral texture. Alice Coote makes a memorably involving Mary Magdalene while Brindley Sherratt shines in a deeply sympathetic portrayal of Judas. Rebecca Evans sings with affecting tenderness as Mary, Paul Groves proves an authoritative John and Jacques Imbrailo a sweet-toned Jesus. David Kempster is an ardent if not always ideally firm Peter.
Assembled from a much-acclaimed Bridgewater Hall concert and rehearsals last May, Steve Portnoi’s astutely balanced production thrillingly preserves the sense of a bona fide event (not to mention a colossal dynamic range, captured with floorboard-throbbing impact and never a suggestion of strain). A set absolutely not to be missed.