Edward Elgar: The Wand of Youth Suites
The latest release in the Hallé’s award winning Elgar Edition features works which reveal aspects of Elgar as both man and composer, reflecting his nostalgic strain and his gift for memorable, melodic invention.
Childhood, that most enduring of Victorian inventions, played an important role in Elgar's life as a composer. We find it in the exquisite orchestral miniatures Dream Children, Op 43, which Elgar produced in 1902, the two Wand of Youth suites of 1907 and 1908, the charming children's fantasy The Starlight Express, Op 78 (1915), and the Nursery Suite (1930). Elgar's three suites, which are the principal focus of this recording, also remind us of his indebtedness to the precedent of the French orchestral suite, a form highly prevalent in the Parisian Lamoureux and Colonne concerts and famous for such composers as Bizet (especially Jeux d'enfants), Saint-Saens, Massenet and Chabrier with their glittering examples of colourful orchestration. In the Wand of Youth suites, played here with great delicacy by the Halle under Mark Elder's affectionate and careful direction, there is no shortage of orchestral invention. We also experience more unusually that curious chemistry of youthful ideas (many of them dating from the late 1860s, the 1870s and early 1880s, well before the onset of Elgar's public career) cast in the adult clothing of the mature composer. It was an impression he clearly wanted to relate by assigning 'Op 1' to both suites. Many of the simple melodies are deeply affecting - the beautiful 'Serenade', the second subject of'The Little Bells' (which turns up in The Starlight Express), 'Fairies and Giants' and the delicious modality of 'The Tame Bears'. Elgar's scoring, too, seems to hark back to that more mellifluous instrumentation of the Enigma Variations in such movements as 'Moths and Butterflies', the evocative 'Slumber Scene' and the more Sullivanesque 'March'. Just occasionally the 50-year-old composer intrudes with the more advanced harmony at the end of 'The Wild Bears', but Elgarian thumbprints are everywhere to be seen, especially in the prevalence of Elgar's two- and three-part contrapuntal models and his love of the countertheme.
The later Nursery Suite, written for the two royal princesses, is also full of nostalgic reverie interspersed with movements of a more boisterous nature such as the compelling ostinato of 'The Wagon (Passes)'. 'Aubade' is enchantingly wistful, the gentle caprice of the flute solo in 'The Serious Doll' is tenderly poised, as is the dreamy portrayal of 'The Sad Doll', but there is something deeply personal about 'Envoy' which, with its violin cadenza (sensitively imparted by Lyn Fletcher) and thematic memories from the rest of the suite, embody more adult emotions of valediction. The inclusion of the orchestral version of Salut d'amour and Chanson de nuit from the first phase of Elgar's career are also a bonus. A must for all Elgar lovers! Jeremy Dibble, Gramophone January 2019
Over the years the Hallé has performed Elgar works countless times and continues to maintain the orchestra’s long and distinguished tradition of playing this great composer’s music both in concert and in recording studio. In fact, it was the Manchester-based orchestra under Hans Richter which, in 1908, gave the première of the First Symphony at Free Trade Hall. In 2011, I reported from a Bridgewater Hall concert with the Hallé under Sir Mark Elgar performing the First Symphony. It was a thrilling performance and I wrote: “there are no better Elgarians around when Sir Mark Elder and his Hallé Orchestra take wing in music that just runs through their veins.” Nothing has altered my view and this new Hallé release containing five Elgar works, examples of the composer’s more easy-listening music of popular appeal, continues to impress, demonstrating the Hallé’s special affinity for Elgar.