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Elgar: Great is the Lord
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Great is the Lord - They are at rest - Queen Alexandra Memorial Ode - Ave Maria - The Spirit of the Lord - O Salutaris hostia - Ave verum - Ecce sacerdos magnus - O hearken Thou - Give unto the Lord / Chœur de l'Abbaye de Westminster, dir. James O'Donnell
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Four of the pieces here, “O salutaris hostia”, “Ecce sacerdos magnus” and the Ave Maria and Ave Verum op.2 date from Elgar’s time at St. George’s Roman Catholic church in Worcester, and I cannot imagine anyone wanting to hear them more than once (or even once). The rest is somewhat better, at least. The opening item, “Great is the Lord”, is a mature and relatively well known work containing what is actually very good melodic material (though the work as a whole is a pretty ramshackle affair). But here we encounter a different problem; this is grand, majestic music, and The Choir of Westminster Abbey simply doesn’t possess sufficient weight and power to bring it off, and the results are anodyne and bland.
In the small, attractive “They are at rest” things work, I suppose, and in the late, elegiac Queen Alexandra Memorial Ode things are appropriately wistful and intimate, though there is too little variation in color and texture (though inspiration apparently ran low on the composer’s side as well for this one). “The Spirit of the Lord” is the Prologue from the oratorio The Apostles, and it is a much better piece; but I cannot imagine why anyone would want to hear it shorn of its full orchestral garb – to be sure, Robert Quinney plays the organ excellently, but it is a poor substitute, and the singing is, once again, colorless and lacking in breadth and depth. The same applies to the main offering here, the otherwise very fine Te Deum and Benedictus. The smaller, much more intimate “O hearken Thou” is well done, but the more extrovert, final “Give unto the Lord” again fails to achieve the necessary splendor (and once again, both works exist in much more exciting versions with orchestra in any case).
Perhaps the recorded sound is a bit to recessed and low-key – I am not entirely sure, but I doubt more ambience or bringing the chorus forward could really have made this disc anything other than what it is – occasionally fine but too often dull singing of music that is either available in better versions (for instance with full orchestra) elsewhere, worthy but staid, or strictly for the specialist.