Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
Alan Opie, baritone
Emily Birsan, soprano
Barry Banks, tenor
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Elgar: Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf
Elgar: The Banner of Saint George
After having recorded Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (‘Recording of the Month’ in BBC Music), Sir Andrew Davis now turns to two of the composer’s most popular early choral works: Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf and The Banner of Saint George. The recording was made soon after a successful performance, featuring the same ‘excellent Bergen Philharmonic’ and ‘outstanding’ vocal forces: the ‘imposing’ baritone Alan Opie, the ‘high, incisive tenor’ Barry Banks, singing ‘fearlessly in some quite challenging passages’, and the American soprano Emily Birsan, who sang ‘with radiant delicacy’ (The Daily Telegraph).
Dating from his years of ‘apprenticeship’, the two works shaped Elgar’s reputation as a leading orchestrator and most popular British composer of his time. The secular cantata Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf derives from Longfellow’s epic poem about Olaf Tryggvason, who became King of Norway in 995. While the text was heavily adapted and augmented, the use of sophisticated compositional techniques, such as extensive motivic work, resulted in music of great power and solemnity.
The ballad The Banner of Saint George is based on the story of Saint George of Cappadocia, as related by the Bristol poet Shapcott Wensley. It was commissioned by Britain’s leading publisher, Novello, and composed in only one month in 1896. Elgar overcame the prescriptive nature of the words and produced a work of lasting charm, the music rising above the material to create atmosphere, momentum, and colour.