Richard Hickox: Elgar The Banner of St George, London Symphony Chorus

Labels: ,

Performer: London Symphony Chorus
Richard Hickox
Richard Hickox
Orchestra: Northern Sinfonia of England
Conductor: Richard Hickox

1. The Banner Of St. George, Op.33: Scene I
2. The Banner Of St. George, Op.33: Scene II - Epiloque (March)

Sir Edward Elgar composed The Banner of St. George on commission from Novello Music Publishers, in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's diamond Jubilee. The commission was part of a strategy, on the part of Novello, to attempt to capitalize upon the celebrations which were to take place throughout Britain by commissioning a wide range of works, by a variety
English: Statue of Sir Edward Elgar This statu...
 Statue of Sir Edward Elgar This statue of Sir Edward Elgar is situated at the southern end of the High Street facing Worcester Cathedral. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
of composers. Elgar was asked to provide music to a libretto by Shapcott Wensley, which Novello had commissioned previously. This was somewhat of an unusual situation for Elgar, who usually chose his own subject and libretto, but the composer readily agreed. About thirty minutes in length, and scored for chorus and orchestra, this two-act ballad tells the story of St. George who arrives in the town of Sylene which is being threatened by a dragon. After rescuing the king's daughter, who has offered herself as a sacrifice to appease the dragon's wrath, St. George slays the creature and leads the community in singing. The work was premiered on 18 May 1897, in London, by St. Cuthbert's Hall Choral Society, a group from Kensington, under the direction of Cyril Miller.

Although warmly received at its premier, The Banner of St. George has since undergone some harsh criticism. Wensley's libretto is solid, but clearly uninspired. Elgar responded to the libretto by crafting music that is lyrical, and avoids the bombast that one might expect to find in a work commissioned in honor of the Queen's diamond Jubilee, but clearly fails to surpass the limitations of the libretto. Although not without its finer moments, the epilogue in particular, The Banner of St. George simply fails to rise to the level of the bar that Elgar had set for himself in 1896 with the premiers of Scenes From the Saga of King Olaf, and The Light of Life. Never the less, it is not a work without importance; the warm reception given the premier worked to enhance Elgar's stature as a composer of not, and set the stage for the triumphant reception of the Enigma Variations two years later