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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Wand of Youth Suites No. 1, Op. 1a (1907); No. 2, Op. 1b (1907); Dream Children, Op. 43 (1902); Nursery Suite (1930)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
Rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 11-15 November 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.557166[66:47]

Elgarís music has travelled to the antipodes to Wellington, New Zealand for this new Naxos release. It is arguable whether the trip was worth it as the performances tend to disappoint overall.

Elgar was over fifty when he returned to his childhood sketchbooks. They take us to a time when he was twelve playing fantasy games with his brothers and sisters. From these fondly remembered times emanated the two charming Wand of Youth suites. In these works Elgarís music conjures an idealistic view of childhood, evocative of sunny charm and of enchanting days of innocence without care or responsibility. The suites which are for full orchestra are melodically and structurally simple with really delightful orchestration. The piece Wild Bear is sometimes played as a separate work; often as an concert encore. The two movements of Dream Children were composed in 1902 and Elgar seems to have been using earlier material steeped in the nostalgia of childhood.

The Nursery Suite from 1930 is for full orchestra in seven movements. It marks Elgarís final return to images of childhood; but without the same quality of invention to be found in the Wand of Youth suites. The composer dedicated the work to the Duchess of York and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose.

I was disappointed with these performances. From previous Naxos recordings I know that the British-born conductor James Judd possesses commanding conducting talents but these are not, I feel, on display on this release. The interpretations came across as mainly lacklustre and sluggish without the required measure of ebullience that is virtually compulsory to make these works sparkle into life. I would like to point listeners who want both the Wand of Youth suites and the Nursery Suite in the direction of an excellent recording by the Ulster Orchestra under Bryden Thomson on Chandos CHAN 8318.

The proceedings are not assisted by the sound quality which is not up to Naxosís usual high standard. The washed-out sound seems far too soft and blurred around the edges. It is as if the recording studio has had its walls lined with thick cotton wool. Furthermore the dynamic range is difficult to tame and requires much volume adjustment.

Lacklustre performances not assisted by a rather washed-out sound quality. Elgar has been far better served in these works elsewhere in the catalogues.

Michael Cookson

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