ELGAR The Kingdom
Sir Mark Elder’s stirring account of the magnificent “Prelude” from The Kingdom (which shared a CD with Thomas Zehetmair’s Gramophone Award-winning version of the Violin Concerto, 8/10) duly whetted the appetite for this welcome set – and I can confirm straight away that Elder’s performance of the complete oratorio evinces a comparable glow, passion and dedication. Not only does he draw orchestral playing and choral singing of notable adroitness from his massed Hallé forces (the violins perhaps lacking something in sheer opulence), his unerring grasp of the bigger scheme and scrupulous attention to dynamic and textual nuance make for profoundly nourishing results. How astutely, too, Elder taps into the vein of wistful introspection so prevalent here and in the Second Symphony and Violin Concerto to come. Like Sir Adrian Boult before him (who famously declared a preference for The Kingdom even over Gerontius), Elder clearly believes in every note of this noble edifice and his unforced, coherent conception has a thrilling ring of conviction about it.
The soloists comprise a strong team. Iain Paterson is a commandingly articulate St Peter, the ever-versatile Susan Bickley a shiningly powerful Mary Magdalene, and Claire Rutter brings considerable technical acumen and strength of feeling to the Virgin Mary’s towering soliloquy “The sun goeth down” at the end of Part 4 – although she by no means obliterates memories of Margaret Price’s sublime contribution on Boult’s pioneering and, it must be conceded, illimitably compassionate December 1968 EMI recording (5/88R). Only the slightly pinched timbre of tenor John Hudson (as St John) will not be to all tastes, yet he sings with devotional fervour none the less. As on Elder’s Götterdämmerung (7/10), producer/engineer Steve Portnoi can be proud of the spectacular range, opulence and realism of his efforts.
Now, can we please have The Apostles from Elder and his stylish Hallé cohorts?