University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Elgar: The Light of Life; Boyce, David's Lamentation

03/05/2023 1:00 pm
03/05/2023 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

The programming for this second Sunday in Lent offers you inspirational choral music in the English choral tradition. Edward Elgar's The Light of Life (1896) is the immediate predecessor of his masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius (1900). The music clearly looks forward to Gerontius and Elgar's two New Testament oratorios, The Apostles (1903) and The Kingdom (1906). The Light of Life (or Lux Christi as Elgar preferred to call it) recounts the story of Jesus's restoration of the blind man's sight, as taken from the Gospel according to St. John. Elgar originally composed this lengthy cantata for the Worcester Festival, the choral singing festival held in his hometown in the English West Country.

As recorded in Liverpool for EMI in 1980, Sir Charles Groves leads the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, with vocal soloists, soprano Margaret Marshall as the Mother of the Blind Man, contralto Helen Watts as the Evangelical Narrator, tenor Robin Leggate as the Blind Man, and baritone John Shirley-Quirk as Jesus. First issued on LP in 1981, EMI reintroduced the recording in 1993 on a single compact disc in its "Classics" line. The LP issue I broadcast first on Sunday, April 12, 1998, followed by the CD reissue on Sunday, March 29, 2009. I draw upon the single silver disc reissue again in this Sunday's presentation.

George Frideric Handel was not the only one in England to write choral music in the grand Baroque fashion. Handel was born in Germany, but William Boyce (1711-79) was a native Englishman, who was arguably the best of Handel's younger contemporaries in London to write in the oratorio genre. You have heard his Solomon (1739) on Sunday, May 12, 1996. A similar choral ode of shorter duration is David's Lamentation over Saul and Jonathan (1736), with a libretto based on verses from the first chapter of the Old Testament Second Book of Samuel.

A revised version of this work intended for performance in Dublin in 1744 appeared on disc in 2000 courtesy of the UK label ASV in its Gaudeamus line. MHS, the defunct Musical Heritage Society, picked it up for distribution in the US. Graham Lea-Cox directs the Hanover Band of period instrumentalists, joined by the Choir of New College, Oxford. There are five vocal soloists. Appended to this single ASV compact disc release are additional tracks of music from the 1736 version of David's Lamentation as it was first performed before London's Apollo Society. This is the world premiere recording of the mini-oratorio. I last broadcast it on Sunday, March 11, 2001.