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Elgar - Marches - New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

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Genre: Classical - Orchestral / Artist: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra / Audio CD released 2005-02-28 at Naxos

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

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      09.06.2006 17:30
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      Good music, indeed, good music.

      EVENING AT THE CLUB

      Outside of his concertos, symphonies and choral music, I suppose none of Sir Edward Elgar’s works are as well remembered by the general populus than his marches. Though they can't really be called ”important” works, they do have a distinct air of stereotypical British pompousness about them that defines the English Imperialism and sense of brash importance on the rage before the First World War. As regards Elgar, these considerations are also often mixed with the thoughts of a refined country gentleman that Elgar’s personality ironically seems to enbody despite being born as the son of a shopkeeper, a profession that was considered almost impossible to escape. As such I think Elgar has more than earned to be called a ”counter-jumper”, which is applied to those who have managed to escape this background. And if there is one thing that really helped his fame spread into truly stellar proportions, it had to be his melodic, brash, patriotic, and grandiose public marches the good ol’ gents could very well identify with while waving their giant whiskers about, mumbling cockney and smoking those humungous cigars in their comfty clubs and discussing the Queen and India. [”Jolly chap, good sport,” ”Hear! Hear!” ”Hrumphhh good rumbrum fair play humph.”]

      So for all of you who fit the above criteria, have I got a soundtrack for you. The budget label Naxos has now released a compilation of Elgar marches that goes through just about all of his most famous genre pieces. In fact the only big march that is left out is the Imperial March of 1897, but it has been recorded so many times (Naxos has already included it on their recording of the First Symphony) that it is good that Naxos have decided to include some more rare pieces instead, and with a running time of 79 minutes, there is certainly no space saved. [Appreciating mumbling, ”Good, good”, ”Good show”, ”By George, top form”.]


      CORONATION MARCH, OP.65 (1911) (10:37)

      The album begins with the grandest of Elgar’s marches, the Coronation March, written for the coronation of King George V in 1911. Beginning with a deeply profound and solemn brass theme that was originally intended for a ballet on the subject of Rabelais that never materialised (much due to Victorian prudence on the subject matter), the work gets more lively and optimistically stately as it progresses, though never overstepping its intended purpose of a grand processional. [Approving mumbling and restrained clapping from the gents.] In the end the opening, solemn theme transforms into a major key with brass fanfares bringing the very symphonic progression to its 10-minute end. [An old gent snaps from his India reverie and shouts out ”Hear! Hear! Long live the King!” Approving mumbling…]


      FUNERAL MARCH from GRANIA AND DIARMID, OP.42 (1901) (10:21)

      In 1901 Elgar provided some incidental music to a play called Grania and Diarmid (written by George Moore and W.B. Yeats), which concerns the rivalry of one Finn and his nephew Diarmid over the hand of a woman, Grania, which eventually leads to Diarmid’s success and his murder by Finn. [Disapproving grumbling ”The swine…”] The Funeral March for Diarmid is one of great breath, bearing many slight Wagnerian undertones mixed with a solemn feeling of twilight that at times reminds me of Siegfried’s Funeral March. It is a very beautiful composition, that also won the admiration of the playwriters as well. Elgar himself described it as ”big and weird”, though I’m not too sure that weird is a proper term for this most magnificent piece. The gradual piling of the tragic feeling as the work progresses is one of great power, to which the small excursions into major keys bring a gentle sense of enlightenment, while the march ends in solemn silence very much like Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela. [Quiet sobbing, the gents perhaps remembering an old friend who never returned from India.]


      POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE MARCHES, OP.39

      Next up there comes the most famous of Elgar’s marches, the ones entitled ”Pomp and Circumstance” [enthusiastic showings of approval]. I have to say that it is rather curious that it has taken Naxos this long to issue a complete set of all five marches (the ones available up until this point have been only nos. 1 and 4). But thankfully, they have now rectified this omission on this recording. The marches were published between 1901 and 1930 and all share the same basic structure of main march – lyrical trio – march reprise – trio pomposified.


      - March No.1 in D major (1901) (6:13) -

      The First March really needs no introduction, being performed endlessly in all kinds of adverts, films, proms, graduations both in England and Yankeeland… Its status is almost paralleled with the British National Anthem. The main march is of course very optimistic and pompous as the title suggests. The lyrical middle section then gives the immortal hymn that remains one of Elgar’s greatest lyrical inspirations. This is followed by the march reprise which gives way to the lyrical melody once again in a more glorified form [here I can hear the gents in their chairs to start singing ”Land of Hope and Glory…” though their accents and whiskers somewhat muffle the words].


      - March No.2 in A minor (1901) (5:08) -

      The Second March was written the same year as the first and offers a complete contrast to the D major optimism of the former in casting the work in A minor. The main march is more brashly dramatic and blustery than strictly militaristic. The central A major trio in its turn is almost playful in its lively air that could well accompany a scena depicting chilrdren [amused chuckling]. The work ends with the most mighty rumbling of brass and timpani.


      - March No.3 in C minor (1904) (5:48) -

      The Third March of 1904 is likewise set in a minor key, this time C minor, beginning in a more sinister way before the jaunty main march forms out of this darkness. There is almost something demonic about this march and in my opinion stands head over shoulder above the first one. The trio section is more gentle, but still has a lot of underlying tension that never totally disappears. After the main march is reprised, the trio section then takes on a much more glorious feel that finally dispels the shadows from even the menacing march theme. [The gents sigh with relief.]


      - March No.4 in G major (1907) (5:14) -

      The Fourth March of 1907 is the second most popular of the five and is the other one that is often performed in concerts. The main march returns to the optimistically jaunty pompousness of the first march, though not being quite as dotted. The lyrical middle section has plenty of echoes of the first march’s trio and indeed there were even words appended to it during World War II. This is perhaps the closest of the marches to parallel the famous first in both thematic material and structuring. [Again shouts of ”Good show, ol’ boy!”]


      - March No.5 in C Major (1930) (6:16) -

      The Fifth March, more than any of the others, is my favourite, although it is mostly based on material Elgar had jotted down earlier. It was published in 1930 and again begins with good spirits with most hoppingly good humour (literally). The A flat major trio to me is the best the marches have to offer with a certain nostalgic feel to it that tinges the work with a profounder air than any of the others. Again the main march returns and is characteristically followed by a most fantastic climax on the trio melody. [Tears are rolling down the ol’ gents cheeks I see, coupled with comments like ”Oh, blast! Looks like I have got something in my eye…”]


      TRIUMPHAL MARCH from CARACTACUS, OP.35 (1898) (7:06)

      Elgar finished his cantata Caractacus in 1898, finding the story of the defeat of the British chieftain Caractacus in the hands of Roman Emperor Claudius and his later release leading to the might of Rome being replaced by Queen Victoria’s British Empire to be quite interesting, particularly as the last battle of Caractacus supposedly happened near his native Herefordshire. The Triumphal March takes place as the grand finale of the cantata, alternating between big brass fanfares, more skittering action and lyrical interludes that possibly suggest the glory of the British Empire. [”Long live the Queen,” ”Hear! Hear!”]


      MARCH OF THE MOGUL EMPERORS from THE CROWN OF INDIA, OP.66 (1912) (3:50)

      The March of the Mogul Emperors was part of Elgar’s The Crown of India incidental music to Henry Hamilton’s Imperial Masque held at the Coliseum in 1912, a celebration of 1911’s Durbar that also marked the accession of King George V. In this scene the Mogul Emperors of old are looking on as Delhi becomes the new capitol, the title Calcutta once held. There are a lot of typically western Indian touches in the music with rattles and boomingly jaunty progressions of the head-swinging locals. [The gents again get misty eyed remembering their excursions in the jungles of India. ”Pukka sahib they called me…”]


      EMPIRE MARCH (1924) (4:17)

      Written for the 1924 opening of Wembley Exhibition, the Empire March is one of the more rarer Elgar marches that is not quite as well remembered as the Imperial March (which by the way replaced this one as the opening of the exhibition). It is still written in the style of his older marches, but at this time Elgar was no longer writing that much music as the First World War and the death of his wife Alice in 1920 had drained much of the former energies out. Still, it is hard to tell this from the optimism inherent in this march that is not inferior at all despite being heard more rarely.


      SYMPHONIC PRELUDE: POLONIA, OP.76 (1915) (14:25)

      The final work on the album is not really a march, but a homage to the suffering Poland during World War I. Polonia was dedicated to the pianist Jan Ignaz Paderewski and its purpose was to aid the Polish Victims’ Relief Fund, the concert where it was first performed also including Paderewski’s own Polish Fantasia. It is primrily based on Polish national songs, the middle one being particularly characteristic in that it was also used by Wagner, Liszt and Paderewski as well in their musical depictions of Poland. The material also includes the revolution hymn against the Russian Tsar that was written in 1863 and the melody of Chopin’s 11th Nocturne in G minor to give a voice to the country. The final section in F major then presents a patriotically triumphant rendition of another national Polish melody that brings the house down with the nationalistic sympathies taken to form an effective conclusion. [The gents look a little confused, but finally retort with ”Hear! Hear!”, ”Long Live the King!”, ”Good show, good show!” etc.]



      THE RECORDING

      The recording itself is of very good quality with wonderfully resonating recorded sound that makes the music rumble with the most thrilling resonance. James Judd proves to be a very well versed Elgarian and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra respond to his direction with enthusiasm and conviction. The collection is one of the best as far as it goes to Elgar’s lighter music and it is a nice thing to have the Empire March and Polonia here as they are extremely difficult to come by, as are the complete sets of the Pomps. Also the wonderful Coronation March and Diarmid Funeral March more than transcend the purposes for which they were composed for. All in all, this is a highly recommendable collection to sate all your marching needs. [”Smashing, old bean!” ”Very good, very good!” ”Burrrurr, hrumpmphffpf fabulous,” approving applause.]

      Prices are at the £5 range throughout (€8 for us normal EU-members).
      Naxos, 2005 (8.557273)


      © berlioz, 2006

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Coronation March, Op.65
      2 Funeral March
      3 Pomp And Circumstance March No.1
      4 Pomp And Circumstance March No.2
      5 Pomp And Circumstance March No.3
      6 Pomp And Circumstance March No.4
      7 Pomp And Circumstance March No.5
      8 March From Caractacus, Op.35
      9 March Of The Mogul Emperors, Op.66, No.4
      10 Empire March
      11 Polonia, Symphonic Prelude, Op.76