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.
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.
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