John Wilson / BBC Concert Orchestra

The Longed-for Light: Elgar's Music in Wartime

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Unlike World War II, where only Shostakovich among major composers made music that really reflected the impact of events, World War I produced strong creative reactions from composers, especially in Britain. This was true even of veteran composer Edward Elgar, whose name usually isn't mentioned in this collection. The works on the album from the small British label Somm don't include any lost masterpieces, and they do not consistently involve the war. The whole program is a mixed bag, with one work, Sursum Corda, Op. 11, apparently connected with the theme only in its solemn atmosphere (it was composed in 1887). The short, light ballet The Sanguine Fan, Op. 81, and the short orchestral piece Rosemary were composed during the war; the latter refers to a line from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember." The most interesting pieces are those that refer more closely to the war. The three works featuring British actor Simon Callow are in a rather old-fashioned genre, the spoken poem accompanied by orchestra (Une voix dans le désert, Op. 77, also includes a sung part), and all the more intriguing for that. These are settings of poems by Emile Cammaert, a Belgian poet who relocated to London after his own country suffered German defeat. They are blood-and-guts patriotic poems, and Callow delivers weepy, intense performances that are exactly what is called for. The orchestral piece Polonia, Op. 76, is also patriotic in nature, and also unusual; it mixes tunes by Chopin and Ignacy Paderewski into Elgar's festive mode. This is a rousing 15 minutes of orchestral music that ought to be heard more often; none of these pieces is at all often played outside Britain. Recommended for Elgar fans, with fine sound, even if it is not a fully cohesive package.

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