Elgar: Orchestral Miniatures (CD review)

James Judd, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.557577.

For listeners used to hearing only Sir Edward Elgar's big orchestral works--the First and Second Symphonies, the Pomp and Circumstance marches, the Enigma Variations, and the like--these orchestral miniatures might come as a delightful surprise. They may be short, but they are really quite sweet and enchanting.

Things begin with the Froissart Overture, written in 1890 and one of Elgar's first popular pieces. It has a nice, dashing swagger to it, inspired by some chivalric lines in a poem by Sir Walter Scott. Following that is a selection of tunes that remind one of the English romantic-pastoral tradition: May Song, Carissima, Three Characteristic Pieces, Chanson de Matin, and Chanson de Nuit. They are slow, lovely pieces with a certain quality of Delius about them.

The Romance for Bassoon and Orchestra is also charming, a work that exploits the poetic quality of the instrument. Then, things conclude in lively fashion with Three Bavarian Dances, which contrasts dramatically with the lyrical tone of most of the preceding pieces and provides a lively ending to the album.

Conductor James Judd makes the most of the music's varying moods, and he and his New Zealand Symphony Orchestra seem born to play the tunes. They treat the music affectionately, understandingly, generating a totally pleasant listening experience.

As for the sound, it is among the best I've heard from this company. For the first few minutes I listened, I thought it was perhaps a tad too forward in the upper midrange, but the ear adjusts, and it adds a bit to the disc's clarity overall. There is a fairly wide stereo spread to complement the proceedings, a good sense of depth, robust dynamics when needed, and an equally brawny bass drum. This 2006 recording, offered at a bargain price, provides more than its money's worth.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa