The Crown of India
Imperial March – The Coronation March – The Empire March
Clare Shearer, mezzosoprano
Gerald Finley, baritone
Barbara Marten, speaker (India)
Deborah McAndrew, speaker (Calcutta)
Joanne Mitchell, speaker (Dehli)
Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus
Chorus Master: Darius Battiwalla
Andrew Davis, conductor
This album, which collects four “imperialistic” works by Edward Elgar, tells in an original way the story of the British Empire and of its “Pearl”, India. It may be considered a testimony of the British people’s mentality between the XIX and the XX century and a recording devoted to history, even if its narration is strongly influenced by the European point of view – but this is not unusual, since probably there will never be a book or any other kind of work that will talk about this touchy subject in a detached and objective way.
The Crown of India, “an imperial masque in two tableaux” was composed to celebrate the Dehli Durbar in December 1911 in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary, as Emperor and Empress of India. The text was written by actor and playwriter Henry Hamilton and mercilessly cut after Elgar have found it deplorable. The first performance took place under Elgar’s direction in 1912 and the work was repeated for one and a half month. Many parts of the “imperial masque” was lost in the early 1970s and the orchestration was completed on request of the Elgar Society by Anthony Payne thanks to the surviving piano arrangement. His work was part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Elgar’s birth, which occurred in 2007.
Another three works by Elgar accompany The Crown of India: The Imperial March, written in occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the first Empress of India, and performed of the first time at the Crystal Palace in 1897, the Coronation March, composed fourteen years later, in occasion of the Coronation of Queen Victoria’s grandson, King George V (the booklet states that it «seems to be mourning the passing of the old King rather than cheering the accession of King George V», but I do not agree completely with this assertion), and the Empire March, composed for the ceremony at Wembley which accompanied the opening by the King of the British Empire Exhibition on St George’s Day 1924.
Conductor Andrew Davis and BBC Philharmonic convey a good idea of the pomp and magnificence of these works, which today will sound politically incorrect. This recording reveals colourful and brilliant music with hints of magic and exoticism in it, even if some passages are out of fashion by now. The Crown of India is a varied and nice composition, which alternates dialogues, orchestral music and arias and it is not difficult to appreciate its fluency. The two soloists, mezzosoprano Clare Shearer and baritone Gerald Finley are both very good: the voice of the first is rich in charm and authority, but her dark timbre is obscured by vibrato, and the second has a purer but less impressive voice. Of the three Marches, the less animated is the Coronation March and Davis stresses its solemnity and heaviness, while directs the other two in a martial and freer way.