Edward Elgar's (1857-1934) Severn Suite first appeared in 1930 as a piece for brass ensemble (orchestrated by Henry Geehl, not by the composer). Elgar, not satisfied with the result, re-wrote the music himself for full orchestra two years later, producing one of his finest late works. George Bernard Shaw, to whom both versions are dedicated, wrote: "What a transfiguration! Nobody will ever believe that it began as a cornet corrobbery!" Although an abridged organ solo version was produced by Ivor Atkins as Organ Sonata No. 2 (Opus 87a - in the brass ensemble key of B-flat, omitting the Minuet altogether yet interpolating 15 measures of Atkins' own fabrication as a cadenza before Elgar's Coda), a new organ transcription based on Elgar's later version in C major was long needed to realize the full stature of the music. At last the orchestral score was published in 1991 (edited by Esther and Robert Kay and published in England by Acuta Music), making it possible to create the transcription heard on this program.
The movements of the Severn Suite merge one into another without breaks; there is in Elgar's plan more than a suggestion of a journey on foot from one venue to the next. "Worcester Castle" (marked pomposo) is appropriately majestic. With "Tournament" we arrive at the first allegro, recognizable by insistent repeated C-naturals in the pedal (snare drum in the orchestral score); arabesques and flourishes announce the vigorous main theme. The energy of this movement eventually wanes (in a highly skilful transition of some 45 measures) and we find ourselves drawn into the hushed atmosphere of the "Cathedral," portrayed by Elgar in a slow fugue of four voices - a noble conception, rich with mystical spirit. After thorough development up to a fortissimo climax, this section gives way to yet another change of mood - the Minuet. In rondo form (A-B-A-C-A), this movement is alternately graceful and whimsical. After the Minuet's conclusion, the Coda remains to recall a few themes from "Worcester Castle," bringing the Suite to a satisfyingly symmetrical close.
- Notes © 2005, Thomas Murray