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Sea Pictures comes immediately after Enigma Variations in the chronology of Elgar’s output. It was written in October 1899, just four months behind its mysterious neighbour.
But it nearly didn’t happen at all; or at least certainly not with its original alto, Dame Clara Butt. When Elgar first called on her, at her home, to discuss the work, she was in the bath and refused to see him. He persevered until the piece was first performed at the Norwich Festival.
As a collection of five very different poems set to music, the critics (of today) often rail against the choice of words. One poem is by Elgar’s wife of ten years, Alice, called ‘In Haven (Capri)’, which she had originally written as ‘Love Alone Will Stay’, and which was published separately a couple of years earlier. Nevertheless, it is a perennial favourite with the musical public.
Della Jones (mezzo-soprano); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Charles Mackerras (conductor). Decca: 4428277.
Illustration: Mark Millington