Edward Elgar’s cantata Caractacus reflects his great love of the Malvern Hills. It tells the story of a British chieftain (‘Caradog’ in Welsh legend) who fought the Roman invaders in the first century AD and was defeated at the British Camp on the Malverns, where the earthworks can still be seen today. Caractacus was later sent to Rome for trial but was pardoned by Emperor Claudius, who was impressed by his powerful oratory. According to legend, he then returned to Britain and began the process of converting his compatriots to Christianity. Elgar’s librettist was another Malvern resident, H A (Harry Arbuthnot) Acworth, who played fast and loose with history by introducing a love interest. Elgar himself began writing Caractacus shortly after Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee and an impressive triumphal march dominates the final scene, which remains the best known part of the work. The pastoral scenes were inspired by the woods and trees of the Malvern area in which Elgar would often walk and cycle. Caractacus is not thought of as one of Elgar’s finest works and it is rarely performed today, but it shows an important stage in Elgar’s development, leading two years later to his masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius. The cantata is performed on this new CD by members of the Huddersfield Choral Society and the Orchestra of Opera North, directed by Martyn Brabbins. The soloists are Roland Wood as the eponymous chieftain, Elizabeth Llewellyn as his daughter Eigen (the only female role), Elgan Llŷr Thomas as her lover Orbin, the excellent bass Christopher Purves as the Arch-Druid and Alastair Miles as Emperor Claudius. Highlights include the delightful Woodland Interlude in which ‘the trees are singing my music, the love-duet of Eigen and Orbin, and the splendid Imperial March that opens the final scene.