David mellor alBUmS of the week
The finest music recently released to mark the centenary of the Armistice is on a Chandos Elgar album conducted by Andrew Davis that brings together The Spirit Of England and The Music Makers The Spirit Of England employs the poetry of Laurence Binyon, whose words ‘They shall grow not old...’ used here will echo around many a war memorial today. Binyon’s poetry has remarkable composure, dignity and far-sightedness, given these pieces were written at the beginning of the war. There is no jingoism whatsoever.
Elgar’s music more than matches the words. So much so that it was much admired by the pacifist Benjamin Britten, who would have recorded it had his health permitted. This recording features a tenor, the excellent Andrew Staples, rather than the usual soprano.
The Music Makers, on which Elgar said he had truly ‘shewn himself’, contains a wonderful reworking of his Nimrod theme in a passage from the mezzo Sarah Connolly. She is also the soloist on the fascinating A Walk With Ivor Gurney from Tenebrae (Signum Classics) Gurney served in the trenches but, after the war, his mental health collapsed and he spent his last 15 years in an asylum. Two of his admirers, Herbert Howells and Gerald Finzi (who lost three brothers in the trenches) orchestrated three of Gurney’s wartime songs, and they make a fine impression, even if Connolly’s diction leaves something to be desired. Also included here are pieces by Vaughan Williams (including his Tallis Fantasia, which so inspired Gurney) and George Butterworth (who also died on the Somme). And there’s a heart-warming tribute to Gurney by the contemporary composer Judith Bingham. This album is well sung by the Midlands choir Tenebrae, directed by founder Nigel Short. Also worthy of mention is Requiem, Ian Bostridge’s collection of war songs (Warner Classics) accompanied by Antonio Pappano, which reach back to the American Civil War. The poetry here is by Walt Whitman and the music by Kurt Weill. There are also some war-themed songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn. At the heart of the matter there’s A Shropshire Lad by Butterworth, which is well balanced by some love songs by the even shorter-lived German soldier Rudi Stephan, killed in 1915. Thought-provoking and often memorable stuff.
Left: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano