David mel­lor al­BUmS of the week

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CLASSICAL -

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

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