The latest release in Hallé’s award winning series of recordings of works by Elgar couples his last great choral work with a fascinating collection of works which similarly remember the departed. Previous Elgar choral releases of The Dream of Gerontius (CDHLD7520), The Kingdom (HLD7526) and The Apostles (CDHLD7534) were universally acclaimed, winning numerous awards, including a Gramophone Award for each release. The largely overlooked The Spirit of England is arguably Elgar’s last great choral work. Thematically linked to The Dream of Gerontius the work sets texts from WWI poets and was premiered in sections during 1916 and 1917. In tone it is close to the melancholy of the Cello Concerto and Britten referred to its music as displaying “a personal tenderness and grief” as well as “genuine splendour”.
Despite its moronic libretto, the opera was an enormous success at its premiere in Naples in 1822, and even Bellini wrote nice things about the second-act septet. Donizetti mixes buffo and serious characters, as well as Neapolitan dialect (there are no recitatives; numbers are separated by spoken dialogue) with “pure” Italian, and the absurd plot is (sort of) held together by the clever Argilla, who under the guise of telling fortunes gains entry to people’s feelings as well as to every area of the castle. Is it a masterpiece? Even close? No, but there are niceties galore–rhythmic arias and ensembles, good (if typical) characterizations, and good tunes.