At first, this disc might seem
a somewhat curious mixture of rarities and the well known and
often recorded. An especially nice and well-filled Teldec disc
ostensibly of ‘The Music Makers’ (4509-92374-2) contained a far
more sensible collection of miniatures. Then I took the CD out
of its case and looked at the advertising behind it. There I discovered
that this is the third Elgar disc from the NZSO under their resident
conductor of some seven years James Judd. It acts therefore as
a sort of mopping-up exercise. Sadly I have not heard the other
two discs but if they are consistent with this one, then they
can be recommended without delay - especially at Naxos price.
nostalgic ‘Romance’ for Bassoon and Orchestra, was new, and
the same goes for the ‘Three Characteristic Pieces’. These
little works can be heard periodically on Classic FM and in
the un-advertised, occasional corners of Radio 3 when its
schedule is not too tight. In the concert hall they are encountered
rarely. They are in fact quite difficult to programme, being
short and often too delicate to make any suitable impression
in our age of wanting music brash and ‘in the face’. The Elgar
here is somewhat distant from the symphonies and ‘Pomp and
disc does however begin with a truly no-nonsense version of
Elgar's early ‘Froissart’, more a tone poem inspired by the
chivalric 14th Century writer of the chronicles
than the composer’s ceremonial side. ‘May Song’ and ‘Carissima’
are charming almost drawing room pieces which demonstrate
the other side of the Elgarian coin: the tuneful, the sensitive
and the dreamy.
‘Bavarian Dances’ are orchestral arrangements of three ‘Scenes
from The Bavarian Highlands’ a choral sequence that was so
popular in the 1890s and inspired by Elgar’s favourite ‘foreign
part’. His admiration for the German people was increased
by their willingness to put on several of his works at the
turn of the century. Part of his late-life despair was to
see how this country turned against the Germans after 1914.
‘Characteristic Pieces’ Elgar means miniatures in a certain
form or style. So we have a Mazurka, a Serenade called a ‘Mauresque’
and a pair of Gavottes which juxtapose two periods, 1700 and
1900. The movement was apparently inspired by Elgar seeing
dancers in Leipzig
dressed on their fronts in old dress and on their backs in
modern. For some reason, not explained in the booklet, and
that I fail to comprehend, the Suite is split after the opening
Mazurka by the Minuet Op. 21 originally written as a piano
piece in 1897 and orchestrated two years later. It is a pleasant
enough piece but surely better placed elsewhere. The only
explanation I can possibly think of is that the Suite, originally
called Suite in D in its first version, had another movement,
a March ‘Pas Redouble’ which is not recorded here and which
I have never heard.
‘Chanson de Matin’ and ‘Chanson de Nuit’ need no introduction.
They are nicely turned out here with some particularly characteristic
rubato phrasing. The same can be said elsewhere on the disc.
Song’ was written as a piano piece and not orchestrated until
the twilight years when Elgar found it difficult to write
anything but enjoyed delving into his youthful cupboard and
orchestrating. ‘Carissima’ was based on sketches Elgar had
conceived in late teenage. It emerged in 1913 from a request
to produce a piece for a side of a 78 shellac record then
proving a new and popular technology, especially with Elgar.
Its length is perfect, its style delicious.
booklet essay by the prolific Keith Anderson has biographical
notes on Elgar and gives a good a background to each piece.
There are also photos and biographies of the performers. So,
a delightful disc with attractive and thoughtful performances
and at a budget price. I suspect that this particular combination
of pieces has not been put together before and probably never
will again, so snap it up.
see also review by William Kreindler
For reviews of other
Naxos releases of British composers, see the themed