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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Wand of Youth: Suites Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 1 (1908)
Dream Children, Op. 43 (1902)
Nursery Suite

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
Rec 11-13 November 2002, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand
NAXOS 8.557166 [66.47]

To collect together Elgarís orchestral music associated with images of childhood is an eminently sensible idea, and it makes for an enterprising and imaginative programme. With high standards of playing and recording, this Naxos disc therefore makes a welcome entry to the catalogue.

James Judd is a skilful and experienced conductor with an international pedigree, and he draws some very sensitive playing from the New Zealand Orchestra. This is important in this repertoire, not least in The Wand of Youth, which is not quite as early a piece as the Opus 1 designation suggests. The final version of these short pieces, based on material from the composerís childhood and youth, is from 1907-8, contemporary with the First Symphony, when Elgar was fifty. And his experience as an orchestrator shows in every bar, whether the music be refined and delicate, or powerful and exciting.

Judd has the measure of these contrasts, as found for example in the final two pieces, entitled The Tame Bear and The Wild Bears. While the performance of Sir Adrian Boult (EMI) remains that touch more vivid and the leader in the field, this new recording gives ample satisfaction.

The same might also be said of Dream Children, perhaps the best music in the collection. Although composed before the final version of The Wand of Youth, the material is mature rather than recycled, though Elgar still claimed it used ideas originating from Ďa few years backí. Be that as it may, this is a penetrating example of Elgarís wistful, fragile emotional outlook. Judd secures some fine playing, and his phrasing seems just right too.

The Nursery Suite was one of the few works to have been completed during the composerís final years, although Anthony Payneís completion of the Third Symphony has given us a new perspective on Elgarís creative powers during this period. Again the music-making is committed and sensitive, completing a disc that is a worthy addition to the Elgar catalogue.

Terry Barfoot

Michel Cookson has a different view

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