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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Wand of Youth Suite No. 1 [21:06]
Wand of Youth Suite No. 2 [18:06]
Nursery Suite [25:41]
Dream Children, Op. 43* [7:51]
Ulster Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Norman Del Mar*
rec. Ulster Hall, 27 June 1982; *Guildhall, Southampton, July 1976
CHANDOS CHAN10422X [73:17]
Experience Classicsonline

Elgar’s Wand of Youth suites were once (August or September 1968, I think) deemed important enough for the Boult recording to feature on the front cover of The Gramophone magazine. I doubt that anyone would now accord them such high status, but they have always been favourites of mine since I obtained them coincidentally along with Anthony Pini’s account of the Cello Concerto on Decca Ace of Clubs. As I recall, those were pretty crumbly recordings, but the quality of the music shone through. That van Beinum recording is now available on CD (Beulah 2PD15 – also from iTunes, but not as one of their higher-bit-rate ‘plus’ recordings), sounding, by all accounts, much better than on ACL.
The Boult version to which I have referred was also once available on CD (CDM7 69207 2); though its place in the EMI stable has now been taken by Vernon Handley’s account (CFP 5 75979 2) at about the same price as this Chandos reissue, I shall not be abandoning it any time soon. I shall, however, play this Chandos version, too, especially as the couplings are more apt and more enticing than those on the Boult CD. The Nursery Suite and Dream Children – the latter piece added to this reissue to make it even better value – are smaller beer than Wand of Youth, but well worth hearing.
Bryden Thomson had something of a reputation for slowish tempi, savouring the music a little too much as he went along. I find this less irksome in his performances of Bax, for example, than some reviewers, and it is not too much in evidence here. He is often faster than Boult; only rarely is he slower.
The Slumber Scene (track 6) is one exception: here, at 4:27, he is exactly a whole minute slower than Boult’s 3:27. EM, who has already reviewed this recording – see review – also noted that Thomson takes whole minute longer over this movement than Handley – at least, I think he meant to say that Thomson was slower, not shorter.
Not recalling that I had thought this movement at all slow in my first run-through, I let several days elapse before listening carefully to the Boult version, fully prepared to think his timing too rushed. It was no such thing – he captures the spirit of the piece perfectly. Having put on the Boult recording in order to check the one track, I just couldn’t resist playing the whole thing. This is a wonderful recording and EMI should urgently consider reissuing it, perhaps more appropriately coupled – the music and performance are even worthy to sit alongside the Enigma Variations. I note that JQ welcomed its most recent appearance on EMI British Classics with enthusiasm (5 75295 2 – see review).
Then I played the Thomson again and derived equal pleasure from it. At first I thought the recording not quite as full as the Boult – EMI’s ADD sound is very good for its age – but that is an aural delusion resulting from the fact that the EMI transfer is at a slightly higher rate: turn up the Chandos a notch and the illusion disappears. Both performances and recordings deliver plenty of power where it is need.
Did Thomson’s Slumber Scene sound too slumberous? Only marginally – heard on its own, without comparison, it’s perfectly fine. I’ve said so often that tempo indications don’t always tell the full story that it’s time that I got it into my own noddle. I do think, however, that the March which begins the second suite (tr.8) is a touch slow at 4:58 against Boult’s 4:26.
The Nursery Suite and Dream Children also receive fine performances – the latter from Norman del Mar, always idiomatic in English music – well recorded. At its new price, this recording is very welcome. In the absence of the Boult (temporary, I hope) this will do very nicely.
These Thomson performances are available to download from classicsonline (mp3 – the original full-price coupling, without Dream Children) and from Chandos’s own theclassicalshop (mp3 and lossless versions). The lossless version is excellent but it’s actually a penny dearer than the CD. The iTunes version, though in the ‘plus’ format, also offers the Chandos original and thus omits the Dream Children performance; at 7.99 it’s as expensive as the lossless version from theclassicalshop.
Chandos will sell you the CD for the iTunes price – some dealers even offer it for less – and you get the informative booklet with Malcolm Walker’s informative notes, which also comes as part of the deal if you download from Chandos. I particularly liked the cover of the reissued CD, from The Tatler – its knowing innocence is in perfect accord with the spirit of the music. You have to look inside the booklet, p.15, to discover that the little girl is saying to her friend “An’ you KNOW what men are.”
If you enjoy these pieces, you will probably react favourably to Elgar’s other piece of childhood-related music, The Starlight Express, Op.78 - not to be confused with the West End musical of that name; there’s a wonderful budget-price Vernon Handley version on Classics For Pleasure 5859072.
Brian Wilson

see also review by Em Marshall



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