A shot-gun marriage
TREVOR HOLD listens to the songs of Edward Elgar
Songwriting is a branch of musical composition that requires natural
flair: either you have the ability to match words and music or you haven't.
Even in their most routine songs, Quilter and Warlock had this talent. Despite
being an infinitely greater genius, Elgar hadn't. His word setting is stiff
and leathery, often with awkward word-accentuation (listen to 'Rondel' 
or 'The poet's life' ). Often texts are no more than pegs on which to
hang tunes: 'In moonlight' , where he arranges a shot-gun marriage between
the 'Canto popolare' from Alassio and Shelley's lyric, is a fine
example. As with his close contemporary, Frederick Delius, solo song was
not Elgar's strongest suit.
This welcome disc provides a representative cross-section
of Elgar's songs. It shows how little importance songwriting was to him,
yet how genius will always shine through. If 'In moonlight' and 'The poet's
life' are a disgrace to the songwriting art, who but Elgar could have penned
such little masterpieces as 'Speak, Music' [listen
- track 12, 0:00-0:41] or 'A child asleep' [listen
- track 20, 2:25-3:27] ?
The three soloists who share the 23 songs give fine performances, with
Malcolm Martineau giving accomplished support throughout. Despite having
the fewest to sing, Catherine Wyn-Rogers has the pick of the songs, but
the choicest interpretations come from Christopher Maltman, particularly
in the unfinished song-cycle, Opus 59 (to poems by the Canadian writer,
Gilbert Parker), which includes what is perhaps Elgar's finest song, 'Twilight'.
[listen - track 17, 0:00-0:48]
For me, the 'find' of the set was 'Arabian serenade'. Elgar transforms
a fairly ordinary poem (by Margery Lawrence) into a powerful song, which
shares the 'Phrygian' mood and mode of his later Piano Quintet. [listen - track 21, 0:00-0:44]
Copyright © 19 February 2000 Trevor
Hold, Peterborough, UK
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