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Caractacus was the last major work Elgar wrote before the Enigma Variations springboarded his reputation from an obviously gifted, though largely ‘local’ composer to a major national and international artist. The oratorio is set in the first century and rooted in Elgar’s beloved Malvern Hills and River Severn, with a final scene in Rome. The British chieftain Caractacus has defied the Roman invaders for eight years before being defeated in battle. He is taken to Rome where his eloquence in addressing the Senate and the Emperor’s clemency gained him limited freedom. Despite weaknesses in Henry Arbuthnot Acworth’s libretto, Elgar’s score is strong and characterful. It’s a period piece, of course, and we need to keep that in mind when listening to it, especially the self-confident epilogue. Brabbins has the measure of the piece and leads his forces in a superbly convincing account. The Huddersfield Choral Society sing splendidly for him, as does the uniformly excellent quintet of soloists. Elgan Lly r Thomas and Elizabeth Llewellyn are especially touching, while in the title role, baritone Roland Wood is on terrific form.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica

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