Mstation Classical Reviews

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Fri, 29 Apr 2005

Elgar, Marches

Edward Elgar (1857-1934) Marches 
Pomp and Circumstance; Polonia; Caractacus and others 

Coronation March Op.65 [10.37]
Funeral March (from Grania and Diarmid Op.42) [10.21]
Pomp and Circumstance Marches Op.39
	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 [7.06]
March from the Mogul Emperors Op.66 No.4 [3.50]
Empire March [4.17]
Polonia, Symphonic Prelude Op.76 [14.25]

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Judd

Recorded in The Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand 
on 7, 8 and 10 February 2003
NAXOS 8.557273 [79.16]

You either love Elgar or hate him; nobody ever seems to have an attitude of ambivalence towards him or his magisterially imperialistic music. The overriding Edwardian confidence doesn't always sit easily with our own, less sure, times. This recording presents the Marches that Elgar wrote, either as freestanding works or as an incidental part of other works. The Pomp and Circumstance Marches are, of course, amongst Elgar's best-known works and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Judd relish every note of the famous "big tunes". There must be a degree of confidence in the performance of this music to make it sound right - anything even vaguely timid will reduce the grandeur to absurdity. This is never apparent in these performances as can be heard in the reprise of the trio in the first March. The famous tune (which Elgar himself described as 'a tune that will knock 'em flat', is preceded by a large pulling up of the tempo and a pause that is fractionally longer than the listener expects. The fortissimo statement of the tune that follows this delay has all the greater impact for it. The other truly great tune is that in the fourth march. Here Judd employs all the restraint possible until the very end. Frequently one hears these march tunes with a chuntering accompaniment of repeated notes being far too prominent. Judd is well aware of the need to balance his orchestral forces at all times and the result gives a greater sense of profundity to these works than is often the case.

The other works are not so well-known although, again, there is no lack of depth in the writing. The Coronation March Op.65, with which the disc opens, begins in surprisingly restrained fashion and is worked out on a large scale. As in the Pomp and Circumstance works the balance of the various orchestral sections is excellent and the overall sound of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is admirable. There is pleasing warmth in the string sound with excellent intonation throughout. Woodwinds are clear and the brass grand without ever becoming too dominant. The tremendous opening of the March from Caractacus shows this section well. Great solidity in the trumpets' opening fanfare figures has all the grandeur that this noble march requires, and is seen in contrast to the virtuosity of the horns in the rapid figures of the first theme that follows. It is a model of control and shows how much valuable work James Judd has been doing with this band in the six or so years since he became their first ever Music Director.

The final track adds a touch of extra gravitas to the programme. The symphonic prelude Polonia Op.76 at nearly 15 minutes long is more akin to Elgar's collection of overtures such as "In the South" than to the marches themselves. Here symphonic construction takes over from the more clearly defined march and trio structures common in the other works. It provides a suitably substantial ending to a programme that otherwise could run the risk of sameness.

If you don't like Elgar, these fine performances probably won't make much impression on you. If you do, this is a disc worth adding to the collection. The Pomp and Circumstance Marches are presented in performances as good as you will hear anywhere else, thoughtfully controlled and not just blasted with bombast, but the other works are really where the interest lies more. These show Elgar as a deeper exponent of the march form than most other composers and the performances are undeniably excellent throughout.

(c) 2005 Peter Wells

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