ELGAR The Light of Life
Hickox's superior Elgarian credentials are immediately established in the glorious orchestral ''Meditation'', where his conducting demonstrates a noble flexibility, sensitivity to dynamic nuance and feeling for climax that are wholly beguiling. Equally, the Chandos production team see to it that the familiar Elgarian 'glow'-a component largely missing from Sir Charles Groves's rival Liverpool recording-is in generous supply; indeed, the engineering, sumptuous yet nicely detailed, comes close to the ideal. The LSO respond for their Associate Conductor with playing that is both warm-hearted and alert; as ever, the London Symphony Chorus contribute to proceedings in exemplary, splendidly disciplined fashion.
An unqualified recommendation, then? Well, not quite, because there are problems with the solo team. As The Blind Man, Arthur Davies could hardly be more ardent, but his slightly tremulous timbre will not be to all tastes. John Shirley-Quirk, so eloquent and firm-toned a Jesus for Groves back in 1980, now shows distracting signs of unsteadiness in the same part. On the other hand, Judith Howarth makes a creditable showing, even if she is not always quite secure in pitch (Margaret Marshall for Groves remains preferable). Only Linda Finnie comes up trumps: her Narrator is certainly the most memorable assumption of the four.
All of which is rather frustrating: Hickox's reading excels in precisely the areas where the Groves was deficient, and vice versa. If you already have the Groves reissue, hang on to it, for it is by no means outclassed by the new Hickox. For anyone coming to this underrated score for the first time, however, Hickox's must now be the preferred version, in spite of my own personal misgivings voiced above.'