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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Coronation March Op.65 (1911) [10:37]
Funeral March (from Grania and Diarmid Op.42) (1901) [10:21]
Pomp and Circumstance Marches Op.39 (1901-1930): No. 1 [6:13]; No. 2 [5:08]; No. 3 [5:48]; No. 4 [5:14]; No. 5 [6:16];
March from Caractacus Op.35 (1898) [7:06]
March of the Mogul Emperors, Op.66 No. 4 (1912) [3:50]
Empire March (1924) [4:17]
Symphonic prelude Polonia Op.76 (1915) [14:25]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
Rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand in February 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557273 [79:16]

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Here is a useful-looking collection of Elgar’s shorter orchestral works, all of which, apart from Polonia, are marches. Whatever one now makes of such music, which predominantly comes from the Edwardian era, there is no doubt that Elgar was a master of the form. For the most part these pieces have been recorded previously as fill-ups for the larger orchestral works and few collectors are likely to have all of them on their shelves. Hearing them together unyoked from a symphony or concerto is an opportunity for some re-assessment.

The Coronation March was written for the coronation of George V in 1911 which, surprisingly, Elgar did not attend. It is a work of considerable substance for such an occasion. The incidental music to Grania and Diarmid – a play by George Moore and W.B. Yeats first staged in Dublin – was written shortly after Elgar’s first major successes (Enigma Variations and Dream of Gerontius). The Funeral march for Diarmid has become an occasional concert piece and is preceded by an introduction adapted from other parts of the score. The march itself steals in half way through and sounds as if it is marked nobilmente.

The first four Pomp and Circumstance Marches were written between 1901 and 1907 with the fifth being added much later. The success of the first has overshadowed the rest but, even though none has a “knock ‘em flat” tune (Elgar’s modest description of Land of Hope and Glory!), they are worthy successors.

Caractacus is a cantata relating the defeat of a British chieftain by the Roman Emperor Claudius; the march marks the culmination of the drama. This is followed by two shorter and later works which are rather less memorable. The disc concludes with the symphonic prelude Polonia which Elgar wrote for a concert given in aid of Polish war victims. He incorporates well-known tunes by Paderewski and Chopin. Hearing the latter’s 11th piano nocturne in this form may come as a shock to the unfamiliar. The conclusion provides a triumphal note but, overall, there is less triumphalism on this disc than one might expect.

Nowadays, no one should be surprised to see Elgar being recorded in New Zealand, albeit with a British-born conductor. These performances are certainly idiomatic and I doubt that I would be able to discriminate “blind” this orchestra from, say, the Hallé. Judd’s approach is to give the music more circumstance than pomp with tempi generally rather broad. This serves the music well and the only controversial moment comes at the climax of the first Pomp and Circumstance march where Judd’s lengthy comma before the last reprise of the big tune (i.e. Land of Hope and Glory) may jar on repeated listening (whereas anything goes at this stage of the last night of the Proms). The orchestral playing is excellent and the recording has both depth and refinement. There are useful notes by Keith Anderson.

In summary, a disc of music which is performed, recorded and presented well. This is a desirable bargain-price collection which should certainly find a niche in the market.

Patrick C Waller




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