Prom 37: The Apostles

Halle Orchestra, Choir and Youth Choir; Sir Mark Elder

The Apostles has never been as popular as Elgar’s other major choral works but when one hears a performance as finely judged as this was it is difficult to understand why this has been so. The choral writing is as secure as any passages in The Kingdom or Gerontius and the characterisation is secure. Moreover, Elgar’s ability to move the narrative seamlessly between epic episodes is handled with utter security. On one level the work is a reworking of the passion story, but Elgar insists that we follow evens through the emotional experience of the Apostles themselves rather than as an outsider looking on at the passion. This is essential to an understanding of the work, as the composer wants us to feel, not simply to follow.

Mark Elder has a fine grasp on the structure of the oratorio and creates paragraphs of Wagnerian length, refusing to let individual moments of beauty break the continuity. And there were many moments of great beauty. Alice Coote is a very sympathetic Mary Magdalene and Rebecca Evans a warmly human Mary and Gabriel.

Jacques Imbrailo gives us a Jesus who is musically one with the Apostles, his voice blending effortlessly with those of David Kempster’s Peter and Paul Groves’ John. The one male voice which stood out from the rest was Clive Bayley’s imposing Judas. Even in the earlier choral writing the dark cynicism came through with great clarity.

Mark Elder followed Elgar’s later custom of forming a small male chorus to represent the other nine Apostles. While musically interesting it also draws attention to the fact that that are dramatically irrelevant to the story when compared to the named Apostles.

Choral and orchestral forces moved with dignity and power throughout, and the important organ part was in the sensitive hands of Darius Battiwalla. As an organist himself, Elgar knew only too well how the organ can add far more than extra power at key moments.

The programme notes that Mark Elder is giving Gerontius with the LPO later this year. It will be worth catching. BH

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