Many delights here covered by twenty-two miniatures, but you may be denied two of them (see final paragraph), although things sometimes come in three – the Bavarian Dances and Characteristic Pieces – the last-named including a grand Mazurka and a Gavotte (the latter's 'Introduction' recorded for the first time), Elgar with a full and international dance card.
Proceedings begin with the first recording of the jaunty Air de Ballet, Elgar’s “earliest known orchestral work” (1881) and here “reassembled”. Curiously scored it may be, including piano and euphonium, but these are some of the forces that young Elgar had available to him at the Worcester Amateur Instrumental Society Orchestra. And then it’s a diversion to Spain, Sevillaña, colourfully exuberant and with a swing. The familiar Salut d’amour exudes freshly turned expression, and the Bavarian Dances themselves embrace an enticing come-hither ‘Lullaby’ between exuberant numbers. Further charm wins through in a Minuet and the May-Song, to which Chansons de nuit and matin are stamped with true Elgarian wistfulness, and here tenderly realised, Nuit especially affecting. And Sérénade Lyrique – Mélodie is further proof that something short and occasional is no barrier to a composer investing much heartfelt expression into a piece, something further exampled by Canto popolare, lovingly arranged by Elgar from In the South, his expansive Concert Overture. Whereas Pleading (this is the premiere recording of Elgar’s version with violin solo, played by Charles Mutter), Carissima, Rosemary and Mina make for an intimate quartet, especially the dreamily swaying latter.
And now, the slight sting. This is an SACD, which being a hybrid of course plays on all non-SACD equipment, albeit from the CD layer, and if you want the full benefit of SACD sound you need compatible hardware. So far, so obvious. The final two numbers here – the two Interludes from Falstaff – are designated as “SACD bonus tracks”. So, if you are without an SACD machine then you don’t get access to the Falstaff pair and there are fewer minutes for your bucks than the stated eighty-one (seventy-six to be exact). Curious as it is, you do get plenty of enjoyable music however, played with expertise and conducted with sympathy and insight, and nicely recorded too. To complete a very recommendable release (though knock a star off if you feel cheated by the denial of the SACD-exclusive content), the informative booklet note is by David Lloyd-Jones himself.