1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
- Publié sur Amazon.com
If you like Elgar in general, but don't go a bundle on his oratorios, Caractacus (like The Music Makers) might appeal more to you, as it does to me. My own difficulty with The Apostles in particular is that I'm uncomfortable with the kind of vocal style that Elgar uses for religious texts, above all for the direct utterances of Christ and the Twelve. With Gerontius the problem is slightly different. The trouble there is that Elgar's lack of literary discernment was abysmal, and he is left expending some of his deepest musical thoughts on verses that are often plain ridiculous.
This great composer's tin ear for poetry was presumably just as coarse when he set Caractacus, but the consequences are less serious. His librettist was a retired Indian Civil Service officer and amateur Babu poet called H A Acworth. Acworth's verses are mediocre to put it kindly, but never as bad as Newman's at their worst, and less of an affront to people's sensibilities because the theme is a less sensitive one. Elgar had been asked for a patriotic cantata to be performed at the Leeds Festival of 1898, and although the theme he came up with was a bit silly (and some of his own jingoistic comments would fail correctness tests these days), Caractacus now seems to be a period-piece and nothing worse. The story relates how the ancient British king Caratacus [sic] opted for the wrong prophecy from his Druids, unwisely took on the Roman army, and was led as a prisoner to Rome. Why choose the theme of a defeat for a patriotic composition, you may ask, and all I can reply is Why indeed? From Elgar's own viewpoint it is largely a matter of playing at Ancient Brits, with druids, white robes, oaks, mistletoe, Taranis and whatnot, because he loved that ambience. For the audience, the final chorus assuring them that Rome's empire had crumbled and that the lesser breeds were now blessing England's name presumably struck the expected note. They were not yet to know that the British Raj would not last a fraction as long as the Roman Empire had. Also Caractacus even in defeat is presented as the Noble Savage orating about Freedom, of all things supposed to be especially British, and no sensibilities were in fact affronted by the behaviour of the Emperor, who was the tolerant I CLAVDIVS.
It is probably a moot point whether the audience even took much notice of the plot. What they could hardly fail to take notice of was the Processional March, even though it was a Roman procession. This is the extract from Caractacus that all of us know, and it was marvellous then and it is marvellous still. I guess this is the point of it all - the action may be trivial gubbins but the music is wonderful, and who cares what it's all about? This set is another fitting monument to Richard Hickox, and the orchestra is the great LSO. They can nearly always be relied on, but surely Elgar's orchestration, arguably the finest there has ever been, must have ensured inspiration among the performers. The soloists do very well too, again helped by the composer. The two bass parts lie fairly high, the baritone role of Caractacus is pitched in the middle of the voice, and although the tenor has a bit of Heldentenor stuff to do when pleading for Britain in front of the rostra, in general his part is moderately pitched, as in Handel and not as in 19th century Italian opera. The total effect of the male voices is therefore equable and pleasant, with gravitas but without heaviness or shrillness. There is even some suggestion of dramatic differentiation in the musical personalities, and I would say that is a bonus thrown in. This is not opera or even serious drama, but it's still a plus. There is only one female role, totally unhistorical so far as I know. The part of Caractacus' daughter Eigen is mellifluously sung by Judith Howarth, offsetting the male voices admirably, which of course was her job.
If you know the oratorios, you will probably want some reassurance concerning the choruses, and I'm happy to supply that. In choral terms Elgar was no Handel, but then who ever was? The various choruses represent different parties, and the choral writing is moderately clear as well as treating the participants distinctively. It was taking a bit of a risk to set long narrative sequences for chorus, but in fact it comes off rather well, the composer having the sense to keep the late 19th century curse of the pervasive andante tempo at a distance and maintain some effective forward momentum. The real issue is the recording, and I'm happy to say that this is better than one often hears given to Elgar. This recording was done at a south London church in 1993, and while it is not quite as good as in the `Elgar Self Portrait' set done in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall, it achieves the basic requirement, so often fluffed, of keeping clarity in Elgar's dense and complex sound. As with The Music Makers on that set, I recommend a fairly high volume setting to appreciate just how wonderfully Elgar writes for the orchestra. It's worth it, so don't be afraid of it.
To complete two hours of music, there is the Severn Suite. This is a late work, dedicated to Bernard Shaw, who had been a hyperbolical admirer of Elgar from the outset. It was originally scored for brass band in some sort of uneasy collaboration between Elgar and a specialist in that field, but Elgar later scored it for full orchestra, and that is the version we have here, admirably played as you might expect.
Full texts are provided, and there is a sensible short liner note. I recommend it all strongly, and when you're through with it try The Music Makers, which is even better.