Elgar's The Kingdom lacks conviction

Hallé Choir and Orchestra are let down by soloists who seem to share Elgar's own misgivings about his sublime work

Composer: Elgar
Repertoire: The Kingdom
Artists: Soloists, Hallé Choir and Orchestra/ Mark Elder
Rating: 3/5 
Genre: Vocal
Label: CD HLD 7526

The Music Despite twice nearly abandoning it, Elgar completed his two-hour oratorio The Kingdom in 1906 as Part II of a projected trilogy on the early history of Christianity. Mrs Elgar kept him going – fortunately, for the music is sublime. Haunting leitmotifs come from Part I The Apostles and the O Sacrum Convivium plainsong. It cost him his faith and Part III never appeared. 

The Performance Mark Elder conducts a radiant account with much dynamic ebb and flow. The Prelude’s crescendo is an engine roaring to life. Sections expressing frailty - remorse in the Prelude and the Arrest – are compelling. Susan Bickley’s Mary Magdalene repents with longing in a silver voice. Claire Rutter’s Virgin is disappointing in the ‘Sun goeth down’: too beefy – ‘patience’ should float. John Hudson’s St John slides outrageously yet enjoys creamy legato once airborne. Iain Paterson’s St Peter is suave and fruity, but loses interest at ‘old men dream dreams’. The lively chorus revels in its frequent dramatic interjections. 

The Verdict The fine orchestra and chorus here are let down by soloists who perhaps cannot be blamed for a lack of conviction which Elgar himself shared. Price, Minton, Young, Shirley-Quirk – singers from a more godly age – with the LPO under Boult on EMI (764 2092) have a more convincing sense of reverence. 

Want More? There’s nothing more poignant than the late Philip Langridge confronting death in Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (DVD Warner 3984 22351-2); also recommended is an award-winning audio recording of that work from the same Hallé forces as here, also on the orchestra’s label (CD HLD 7520).