Martyn Brabbins follows fine, firmly unsentimental, bracingly muscular performances of two of Elgar’s best known orchestral works—the Enigma Variations and the concert overture In the South—with four smaller scale, little known pieces. One is an arrangement for clarinet and orchestra, never recorded before, of the song Pleading, which turns it into a melancholy orchestral miniature, while the others form a trilogy of recitations, delivered forcefully on the disc by Florence Daguerre de Hureaux. The pieces were part of Elgar’s contribution to the war effort, composed between 1914 and 1917 to muster support for occupied Belgium’s resistance movement.
They set poems by Émile Cammaerts for narrator and orchestra: Carillon celebrates Belgium’s bell towers as a symbol of the country’s resistance; Une Voix dans le Désert depicts the desolation and destruction of the Flanders battlefields, while Le Drapeau Belge dwells on the symbolism of the Belgian flag. The first and last pieces have a whiff of routine jingoism about them, but Une Voix dans le Désert is, in its modest way, a real gem, in which a soprano (Kate Royal here) represents the sound of a young girl singing in a cottage while the war rages around her.