Elgar: Nursery Suite; Dream Children; In Moonlight; Romance; Sospiri; Serenade for Strings; Elegy

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Nursery Suite; Dream Children; In Moonlight; Romance; Sospiri; Serenade for Strings; Elegy
PERFORMER: Julie Price (bassoon), Stephanie Gonley (violin), William Bennett (flute), Osian Ellis (harp); ECO/Paul Goodwin
When Elgar wrote his big choral and symphonic works the gods he looked to for inspiration were German: Wagner, Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn. But when it came to writing lighter music there was a marked shift towards a French tradition. Schumann is still there in the lovely ‘Dreaming’ from the Nursery Suite, but the other movements are closer to the Bizet of Jeux d’enfants, or the Fauré of the Dolly Suite. Now that it’s no longer routine to sneer at such charming, exquisitely wrought miniatures, it’s a good time to be looking at the lighter Elgar again. Listeners (especially Gallic ones?) who have difficulty digesting the big orchestral works may find the Nursery Suite or the tender, light-textured Serenade for Strings much more to their liking – especially in performances like these. Paul Goodwin never tries to make mountains out of these modest pieces. The focus is on melodic grace and charm, and gentle warm colours. But Goodwin has an ear for deeper undercurrents, too: the feeling that nostalgic longing or pained regret are only just contained – that the more overt heartache of the Cello Concerto is not so far away. Perhaps Goodwin’s Serenade isn’t as gloriously captivating as the much-loved Barbirolli version, though in its more restrained way it’s persuasive enough. And although Andrew Davis’s Dream Children, Elegy and Sospiri (coupled with a fine performance of The Music Makers) have a lot to offer, there’s something more intimate and supple about the ECO’s playing here. The only slight snag is the recording: clean and bright, but bringing us quite close to the musicians – all right in the solo passages, though during ‘The Serious Doll’ in the Nursery Suite the flute keys click distractingly. Stephen Johnson