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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Music for Powick Asylum
Menuetto [4:22]
Andante and Allegro for oboe and string trio [6:03]
Die Junge Kokette Quadrilles [6:43]
Maud Polka [4:47]
L'Assomoir Quadrilles [6:09]
Nelly Polka [3:11]
La Brunette Quadrilles [7:15]
La Blonde Polka [4:46]
The Valentine Lancers [8:33]
Duett for trombone and double bass [1:19]
Paris Quadrilles [6:21]
Helcia Polka [3:12]
A Singing Quadrille [8:42]
Fugue in D minor for oboe and violin [1:09]
Blumine Polka [4:17]
Innovation Chamber Ensemble/Barry Collett
rec. CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 30-31 July 2013
SOMM SOMMCD252 [76:59]

The Worcester County and City Pauper Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1852. It may well surprise many listeners to this disc as it did me that one of the most popular and successful activities arranged for the patients was a weekly dance. The brass band originally employed for these purposes was soon changed to a more mixed ensemble, and by the time that Elgar was appointed as bandmaster in 1879 it included a piccolo, flute, clarinet, two cornets, euphonium, bombardon, strings and piano. The players were Asylum staff and the composer's friends. Elgar wrote much dance music for this group and that which survives is included on this disc together with a handful of other early works.
This is not the first time that Barry Collett has conducted this music on disc. His earlier version on the British Music Label included only the Asylum music and was played by the Rutland Sinfonia. Although this was admirably enterprising in presenting this then unknown music to the public the playing and recording combined to a somewhat unrelenting effect. The present disc is in every way its superior. What seemed on the earlier disc like a series of somewhat crude and uninteresting dances are transformed into a delightful series of varied miniatures. The music remains a minor part even of Elgar's minor works but it now will give much pleasure to the listener with a taste for the dance music of the period. It gives further pleasure to the Elgarian wanting to spot the composer's characteristics in an early form. He was always a keen recycler of his own music, and this is apparent right from the first piece - a Menuetto apparently submitted as a kind of audition piece. Its central section later reappeared as the central section of the Minuet Op 21. Part of the Quadrille L'Assomoir later became The Wild Bears from The Wand of Youth Suite No 2. Throughout the disc there are odd turns of phrase and characteristic progressions that immediately recall the mature composer.
As is common in this sort of music most of the titles are of no great significance. It is however worth mentioning that despite its name A Singing Quadrille is not one of those embarrassing pieces in which instrumentalists are expected to sing, usually very badly. It is based on a series of nursery rhymes and other tunes and was completed only as a sketch, played here in a version edited by Andrew Lyle and Barry Collett. Andrew Lyle was also responsible for the edition used for all the Asylum music and this has been published as part of the Elgar Complete Edition.
The success of this disc is largely due to the admirable playing of the Innovation Chamber Ensemble, drawn from players from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and to Barry Collett's idiomatic direction. The recording is of excellent quality and the booklet notes are ample and interesting. My only minor complaint is that the pauses between the figures of the Quadrilles and Lancers are too long.
Given the instruments at the composer's disposal and the underlying purpose of the music, much of what is heard here sounds inevitably like the many thousands of other pieces of British dance music written towards the end of the nineteenth century. That did not worry me, as that fascinating body of work is only very sparsely represented on disc. Clearly this is not a disc anyone should go to expecting profundity or revelation. Rather it provides an interesting window on the activities of the young Elgar, on British dance music in the later nineteenth century and perhaps on the enlightened attitude towards "pauper lunatics" in Worcester at that time.
John Sheppard