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This is the time of year when record companies turn their thoughts to remembrance Day, made particularly poignant this year by the centenary commemoration of the first world war. Elgar’s Spirit of England, dedicated to ‘our glorious men’, helped to revive the spirits of a grieving nation. Elgar is in rousing mode and it’s given a robust performance by operatic soprano Judith Howarth, the London Symphony Chorus and the Philharmonia in the capable hands of John Wilson. rarely heard today, Carillon for orchestra and speaker, which commemorates the fate of Belgium, has lilting orchestral writing to accompany Binyon’s optimistic poem. a strange choice on this CD is the incidental music to Arthur, taken out of context. Elgar, ‘writing for a lost England’, was asked to provide the music for a stage production of Binyon’s version of the Arthurian legend. as an accompaniment to the verse play it makes perfect sense, but standing alone it lacks cohesion.

Truro Cathedral Choir features music from the time of the 1914-18 war. Alan Gray’s loss of two sons in the war is marked by his three settings of Rupert Brooke. Undoubtedly sincere, the songs are efficiently written Edwardiana but lack the inspiration of Parry and Stanford, who are also represented here. Particularly touching is A short Requiem by Walford Davies; it is written with deceptive simplicity, and the choir responds elegantly to the unusual text. The programme ends with Vaughan Williams’s Lord, thou hast been our refuge. it’s an efficient performance, but the soloists are too distant from the microphone.

The Choir of Westminster Abbey’s programme Music for Remembrance benefits from taking a wider perspective on the subject. James O’Donnell plumbs the essence of the music and extracts outstanding performances from all the singers and players in an imaginative programme, excellently recorded. alongside Duruflé’s requiem are VW’s Lord, thou has been our refuge, Howells’s Take him, earth, for cherishing, Philip Moore’s Three prayers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Sir John Tavener’s The peace that surpasseth understanding. Moore responds to the suffering and execution of pastor Bonhoeffer at the hands of the Nazis with impassioned, unaccompanied choral writing that never fails to hold the attention – it’s riveting. Tavener’s response to a text is always insightful. This commissioned piece was premiered in Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day 2009. The music reflects his deeply held beliefs and strikes just the right note. The interjection of the organ at the end is as unexpected as it is unsettling.

SHIRLEY RATCLIFFE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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