Elgar The Apostles Botstein

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lennygoran
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Elgar The Apostles Botstein

Post by lennygoran » Mon May 15, 2017 5:06 am

We've been going to Bard for quite a few years now where Botstein tries to remind us of operas nearly lost-this summer it's Dvorak's Dimitri! Regards, Len

Review: Elgar’s ‘The Apostles’ Is Rescued From Being Overlooked

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI MAY 14, 2017


The conductor Leon Botstein has long argued that classical music is in danger of boring itself to death with endless performances of repertory staples, however great those works may be. Through the programs he has conducted over 25 years as music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, and the summer festivals he has overseen at Bard College, where he is president, Mr. Botstein has championed earlier works that, often for inexplicable reasons, have been nearly forgotten.

Mr. Botstein was at it again on Friday at Carnegie Hall, when he led the American Symphony, a strong roster of vocal soloists and the Bard Festival Chorale in a rare performance of Edward Elgar’s 1903 “The Apostles.” This two-hour oratorio tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion from the vantage of his followers. It’s performed on occasion in Britain.

But in America, even Elgar fans may not realize that this piece exists. It was a revelation to me. After this fine performance, I think I prefer “The Apostles,” with its soft-spoken, reflective richness, to Elgar’s better-known oratorio “The Dream of Gerontius.”

Elgar conceived “The Apostles” during a visit to the Bayreuth Festival in Germany in the summer of 1902, when he saw Wagner’s “Parsifal” three times. Flush with inspiration, he embarked on a work of Wagnerian dimensions: a trilogy of oratorios on Christian themes. “The Apostles” was the first; the second was “The Kingdom,” a shorter work. But artistic indecision and a crisis of faith caused him to abandon the third.

The music of “The Apostles” has pervasive sadness but also elements of British affirmation, what Mr. Botstein described as Elgar’s language of “communal, national, imperial majesty” in a recent interview.


A prologue opens with a flowing, hymnal chorus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” The harmonic language, while always moored to late-Romantic tonality, is run through with wayward chromatic passages that lend the music searching frailty. Wagner’s influence is unmistakable. A narrator (the robust tenor Paul McNamara, who also sang the role of St. John) tells of the apostles being called by Jesus. The music conveys wonder, with a touch of fear, perhaps because we know where this story is heading. The Angel Gabriel (the radiant soprano Jennifer Check, who also sang the role of the Blessed Virgin) exudes unambiguous wonder when the story is taken further.

A heavenly chorus, “The Lord hath chosen them,” seems to celebrate the apostles. Still, the slightly fraught music hints that these simple men may be wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Jesus appears at decisive moments, and the youthful bass-baritone Adrian Rosas brought sweet earnestness to the role. But the real leads are his two tormented followers: Mary Magdalene and Judas. During an intense scene, Mary (the rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Sara Murphy) expresses abject shame over her sinful past and desperate longing for forgiveness. Judas (the robust bass-baritone Alfred Walker) is presented with rare complexity. Hearing Jesus deliver the beatitudes, Judas mutters disbelieving asides. But Judas later reveals his bleak view of life as “short and tedious” in a bitter soliloquy. The sturdy bass-baritone Joseph Beutel made a sympathetic St. Peter, who also goes through anguish after denying Jesus.

Mr. Botstein drew warm, glowing playing from the orchestra and rich, unforced singing from the impressive Bard chorus, trusting in the music’s majestic serenity. Sometimes I wanted more definition and intensity. Still, the performance served this remarkable oratorio. Here was the latest rescue job by a tireless champion of the overlooked.



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/14/arts ... ctionfront

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