Elgar: The Wand of Youth – Suites Nos 1 & 2, Opp 1a & 1b; Nursery Suite; Salut d'amour, Op 12; Chanson de nuit, Op 15 No 1

Reviewed on Mon 25 Mar, 2019

The performance of late Nursery Suite casts as strong a spell as any to have come my way since the composer's own world premiere with the LSO.

This latest offering in Sir Mark Elder's Elgar series with the Hallé strikes me as an unbridled success. Subtitled 'Music to a child's play' and using tunes from the teenage composer's sketchbooks, the two Wand of Youth suites emerge as freshly as the day were conceived, the enviably poised orchestral response and Elder's pliable, affectionate and sensitive direction doing scrupulous justice to Elgar's enchanting inspiration. What marvellous delicacy and sense of innocence Elder brings to 'Fairy Pipers' and the sublime 'Slumber Song' (with its repeated bass line of A-D-G on open strings cleverly designed “for a child who knows nothing about music on any instrument to grind out the bass”); and how memorably vivacious are the scintillating 'Sun Dance', 'Fairies and Giants' and boisterous 'The Wild Bears'. The performance of late Nursery Suite casts as strong a spell as any to have come my way since the composer's own world premiere with the LSO captured by the HMV microphones in London's Kingsway Hall on 23 May 1931; bouquets, too, for some superb solo contributions from principal flute Katherine Baker in the very Fauréan 'The Serious Doll' and leader Lyn Fletcher in the valedictory 'Envoy'. Both Salut d'amour and Chanson de nuit likewise receive disarmingly tender treatment. First-class production (Andrew Keener), expert balance (Steve Portnoi) and lucid booklet-notes (Andrew Burn) round off what is a thoroughly recommendable package.
–Andrew Achenbach