Elgar - The Apostles

Winner of the BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Year and Choral Award 2013

Winner of the Gramophone Choral Award 2013

No. 4 in UK Classical Chart

Elgar planned a trilogy of oratorios, which was preceded by The Dream of Gerontius, and which was never completed, perhaps in part because of his own faltering faith. Previously released by Hallé, The Kingdom was originally planned as the third part of the trilogy and has attracted a growing following. This new release presents the oratorio planned to open the trilogy, the lesser known and hitherto rather under-served work The Apostles, in a performance which the Guardian described as being ‘revelatory’. This retelling of Christ's Passion from the viewpoint of His followers features extensive and effective use of leitmotivs and choral writing which is arguably an advance on that of Gerontius, with the work’s closing section – depicting Christ’s Ascension to heaven – thought to be one of the most poignant ever written. This is the latest release in Elder and Hallé’s renowned Elgar series in which previous volumes of The Dream of Gerontius (CD HLD 7520) and The Kingdom (HLD 7526) were universally acclaimed, each winning a Gramophone Award. Recorded live at sell out Bridgewater Hall concert the performance benefits from extensive research by Mark Elder, including study of a proof copy of the vocal score which he matched with what Elgar himself conducted in 1921, reinstating the semichorus of nine male voices, sung here by an ensemble Elder specially selected from the Royal Northern College of Music. As such the recording is probably the first since Elgar conducted The Apostles in Hereford on 7 September 1921, at the Three Choirs Festival, to incorporate Elgar’s intentions at several points in the oratorio The work includes a part for a shofar, an ancient Hebrew instrument made of ram’s horn. In most performances this is imitated by modern instruments, but for this recording Mark Elder has engaged a genuine shofar player.

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"Fine soloists, stunning choruses both spectacular and intimate and the immediacy of live performances combine to create an Award-winner that is head and shoulders above the rest of this year's shortlist. Further, it recognises the expertise of a distinguished British conductor in British music with a great British orchestra. Three reasons for celebration with an abundantly deserved award." Gramophone Award Winner 2013 - Choral

"This is quite simply the best performance ever of The Apostles on disc. Those who enjoyed Elder’s Proms performance and BBC broadcast will find their favourable impressions reinforced, and indeed bettered. Those who found the Boult recording good but not overwhelming will find this an answer to their prayers, with soloists just as good and a much better chorus." Paul Corfield Godfrey, musicweb-internatinal.com

Sir Mark Elder’s thrillingly commited and magisterially paced account of Elgar’s The Apostles with his Halle forces is a benchmark achievement for all involved. Andrew Achenbach’s Critics Choice 2012, Gramophone Magazine

This superb Apostles is a mandatory purchase for all Elgar enthusiasts

The Hallé plays magnificently. Elder has developed this orchestra into a top-rank ensemble and currently it is as good as any I know when it comes to Elgar. The Hallé need fear no comparison. There’s a sheen to their sound and the ensemble is wonderfully flexible. In the loud passages there’s great power, though with no suggestion of forcing the tone, but what really grabbed my attention time after time was the sensitivity that they bring to quiet passages. Elgar was a glorious orchestrator who was at the height of his powers in the period that saw the composition of The Apostles. Elder and his splendid orchestra bring out all the colour, richness and inventiveness in this score.

At the end of the day the triumph is Mark Elder’s. He’s a marvellous Elgar conductor, as he’s already proved many times. The score abounds with minute tempo modifications and observance of these is essential if the vital ebb and flow in an Elgar score is to be captured. Elder is masterly at this. Nothing escapes his attention but, more than that, he makes these tempo modifications, many of which are tricky and last only a bar or so, seem absolutely natural. However, the success of the performance is not just a matter of minutiae. Elder has a wonderful feel for the sweep of the work and his extensive operatic experience is surely crucial in putting the score across. Much of Apostles is essentially reflective but dramatic thrust is vital also and Elder is convincing throughout and in every respect. I felt that Elder’s tempo selection was convincing throughout the oratorio.

The new recording was made under performance conditions and engineer Steve Portnoi and his team have achieved excellent results. Their recording offers a satisfying concert hall perspective and balance; there’s just enough distance and ambience but lots of detail emerges without any suggestion of performers being put under the microscope. The soloists are expertly balanced.

This superb Apostles is a mandatory purchase for all Elgar enthusiasts.

John Quinn, Recording of the Month, MusicWeb-international.com

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