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Rule, Britannia

28 SEP 07 VIVIEN SCHWEITZER

There has been considerable discussion this year, which marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the English composer Edward Elgar, about what constitutes the quintessential British sound. On a new Telarc release Britannia, Donald Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra explore a range of contrasting British voices with works written in the last century.

Who better to kick things off than Elgar? The disc opens with a rousing, buoyant performance of his "Pomp and Circumstance" March No. 4. Then the mood shifts to Scotland's Orkney Islands with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's programmatic "An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise," a snapshot of the merriment of whiskey-fueled nuptials, complete with bagpipe jig.

In contrast to the tuneful Scottish gaiety is Mark-Anthony Turnage's exuberantly raucous "Three Screaming Popes," inspired by three paintings by Francis Bacon. The Atlanta Symphony vividly illuminates Turnage's brash colors, as well as the energy of James MacMillan's "Britannia." which weaves patriotic themes such as "God Save the Queen," an Irish jig, a Cockney drinking song, Elgar quotations and surprising interjections of auto horn, police whistle and duck call into a work of wildly contrasting moods. The disc also includes a nuanced performance of Britten's somber Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20 and wraps up with that most British of works: Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" March No. 1.