Sunday 20 September 2009

CD Review - Land of Hope and Glory

Decca have issued another one of those hopeful compilations which is intended to try and capture something of the essence of the Last Night of the Proms. The disc is a two CD set, the backbone of which are a series of recordings by Barry Wordsworth with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society. The full CD includes a generous 27 tracks in all and has items by artists such as Dame Janet Baker (O had I Jubal's lyre from Joshua), Sir Thomas Allen (Drake's Drum), Bryn Terfel (Danny Boy). As can be seen the selection wanders from the Last Night of the Proms into more an evocation of Englishness.

I listened to highlights made available via their on-line downloading system. This opened with Land of Hope and Glory arranged from the Elgar Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1. For this arrangement to work, the chorus have to sing with passion and commitment, something that the Royal Choral Society fail to do. Their rather flat delivery contrasts markedly with the brisk, up-beat account from Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra. If you are going to do this choral arrangement (rather than the composer's original) then it surely has to be convincingly flag-waving for it to work.

Handel's Zadok the Priest, given by such rather large-scale forces evokes not only pomp and circumstance but also recordings from an earlier age. The chorus work hard to match Wordsworth's crisp and brisk tempi, and they make a decent fist of the runs. But the spine-tingling magic of the piece just escapes Wordsworth. Parry's Jerusalem is a different matter, here both chorus and conductor manage to give us the sort of commitment missing from the earlier pieces.

They are joined by Della Jones for Rule Britanna, a slightly blowsy choral sound contrasts with the more focused tone from Jones, who contributes some rather amazing ornaments in the later verses.

Wordsworth starts Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 in a rather brisk fashion, though it is impressively played by the BBC Concert Orchestra. This mood seems to continue though and the nobilmente sections never seem to achieve the mood required.

In I vow to thee my Country, based on an arrangement from Holst's Planets, the Royal Choral Society again turn in a fatally routine performance, but the whole is lifted by the solo contribution from Della Jones at the end.

Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs is given a delightful performance which captures the charm and humour of the piece and the BBC Concert Orchestra contribute some lovely solo moments.

The next track was the Academy of St. Martin in Fields account of RVW's Greensleeves, under Sir Neville Marriner. A well known version of the piece, which is simply beautiful.

Back to Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra for a brilliantly crisp and rhythmically incisive account of Walton's Crown Imperial. Granted, Wordsworth is rather too brisk in the Elgarian nobilmente middle section, but he brings it all to a wonderfully exciting close.

The Scots Dragoon Guards contribute a version of Amazing Grace which suffers badly from over-production; I longed for the backing chorus and orchestra to disappear and leave the pipers to get on with doing what they do best.

Finally a perky account of Eric Coates Knightsbridge March from his London Suite.

This 2CD set is pretty good value and has some very attractive tracks on it, especially the older recordings. If the choral performances by the Royal Choral Society had been a bit more inspiring I think I could have given it a more wholehearted review. As it is, this Land of Hope and Glory just lacks the commitment needed.

Full CD Listing:-
The Ultimate Classical Celebration

1. Elgar: Pomp & Circumstance, March No. 1 (“Land of Hope and Glory”)
2. Handel: Zadok the Priest
3. Parry: Jerusalem
4. Arne: Rule Britannia
5. Elgar: Pomp & Circumstance, March No. 4
6. Holst: I Vow To Thee My Country
7. Elgar: “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations
8. Coates: The Dam Busters March
9. Alford: The Bridge on the River Kwai (“Colonel Bogey”)
10. Walton: The Battle of Agincourt
11. Grainger: Shepherd's Hey
12. Handel: O Had I Jubal's Lyre
13. Stanford: Drake's Drum
14. Parry: I Was Glad

1. Wood: Fantasia on British Sea Songs
2. Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves
3. Walton: Crown Imperial (Coronation March)
4. Clarke: Trumpet Voluntary (The Prince of Denmark's March)
5. Walton: Orb and Sceptre
6. Coates: The Three Elizabeths - Halcyon Days
7. Scottish Medley (feat. “Flower of Scotland”)
8. Danny Boy
9. Land of My Fathers
10. Elgar: Chanson de Matin
11. Amazing Grace
12. Coates: London Suite - Knightsbridge March
13. The National Anthem (arr. Gordon Jacob)

Performers include:
Bryn Terfel
The Philip Jones Ensemble
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
The Royal Choral Society
The Fron Male Voice Choir
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
London Festival Orchestra
English Chamber Orchestra
The BBC Concert Orchestra / Barry Wordsworth

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