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Elgar Spirit of England and Beresford King-Smith Psalm-Symphony in Adrian Boult Hall.

Elgar pulls emotional strings.

“Music which had practically to be torn out of its composer, Elgar’s The Spirit of England is a masterpiece which remains too little known.

Almost as autobiographical as the slightly earlier Music Makers, these First World War settings of three poems by Laurence Binyon breathe an immense sadness, clinging onto visionary hope.

The A major ending of the concluding For the Fallen pierces the heart in its desperate idealism, and the whole trilogy conveys Elgar’s outrage at the futility and carnage of it all.

“Oh, my horses!” he railed, the horror of the suffering of humans already a terrible reality.

This music is Elgar at his most personal, written with his customary experienced skill, which allowed Colin Baines’ Birmingham Choral Union to deliver a performance on Saturday with a sonority blazing with conviction.

The singers’ response to this heartbroken music, allied to soprano soloist Janet Vine’s affecting contribution, created a genuine sense of emotional commitment which couldn’t help but communicate to the audience.

And the expert way with which the BCU’s scratch orchestra (on a minimum of rehearsal) tackled Elgar’s adroit score brought riches of eloquent, sumptuous sound.

Perhaps it was unfair to set this great work against one which, though equally sincere in its Beresford King-Smith’s Psalm-Symphony, successfully premiered last year, is well-constructed,
making resourceful use of pedal-points, fanfaring excitement and vocal parts which are generally grateful to sing (despite a passage towards the end which drives the sopranos into very deep regions).

It will find an appropriate audience who will welcome its unrelenting born-again joyousness. Others will wince at its marriage of Songs of Praise with The Vicar of Dibley.”

Rating: ****
Apr 9 2007

 

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