The Music Makers is Elgar’s 1912 setting of Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s eponymous poem, a score notable for the composer drawing on snatches and themes from The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles, Violin Concerto, Sea Pictures, the two Symphonies, and Enigma Variations, which resonate with those who love Elgar’s output and do not serve to egocentrically aggrandise him although they do perhaps indicate a sense that artists build their life’s-work on past experiences, here manifested by melancholy, opulence and splendour, a hint of the martial, and often the religious and spiritual.
Andrew Davis has recorded The Music Makers before; this is more volatile and dramatic, almost operatic, and captured in remarkably clear and spacious sound. The BBC Symphony Chorus is on magisterial form, with fabulous dynamic and tonal variety as well as super clarity of utterance – one hardly needs the text printed in the booklet. Sarah Connolly matches Davis’s fiery approach with the impassioned, sometimes wild urgency of her singing, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra is at once idiomatic and alluring.
These qualities also illuminate The Spirit of England (1915) and bring it to vivid life. It was written to honour the fallen of the First World War then not even halfway through its long and wasteful duration. This is the first recording to opt for a tenor for all three of the Laurence Binyon poems, the forthright-sounding Andrew Staples with an appropriate blend of lyricism and heft. This is a stimulating and satisfying release.