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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The five Pomp and Circumstance Marches in brisk, well-spring readings are flanked by four rather longer pieces—three more extended marches plus, as a final item, Polonia, Elgar’s First World War tribute to Poland, with its sequence of Polish martial themes mad to sound very British. The clarity and crisp ensemble of the Pomp and Circumstance pieces (as well as speeds on the brisk side) given them a winning freshness, with the brass particularly impressive. The Coronation March of 1911, written for the coronation of George V, has symphonic dimensions, with Judd drawing the disparate elements strongly together, while the solemn Funeral March from Elgar’s incidental music to a play by W.B. Yeats and George Moore, Grania and Diarmid, is here enhanced when it includes not just the march itself but the substantial introduction, usually labeled ‘Incidental Music’. The Empire March, written for the opening of the Wembley Exhibition of 1924, and Polonia are relative rarities on disc, both persuasively done, while the March of the Moghul Emperors, wit its exotic percussion, is a welcome rarity too. The Triumphal March from Caractacus has the brassiest opening of any of the marches, and Judd makes it swagger infectiously. Warm, clear, well-balanced recording.

David Hurwitz, March 2007

Nearly 80 minutes of Elgar in march tempo may be a bit much at a single sitting, but this disc fills a useful niche. The most interesting work here is the symphonic prelude Polonia, dedicated to Paderewski and composed during the First World War. Making use of various Polish melodies (including music by Paderewski and Chopin), at nearly 15 minutes it's a major statement for a mere "occasional" work, and the only reason I can think of that it isn't better known is that it's not about England so no one especially cares. James Judd and the New Zealand Symphony play it very well, as they also do the Pomp and Circumstance Marches. Frankly, you can have your Boults and Barbirollis: compared to Judd they sound far less involved. He actually has interesting ideas about phrasing (listen to how he drives the opening of March No. 2), and he makes a persuasive case for this music as music, rather than as a high school graduation exercise or some other mundane event.

The Coronation March and the Funeral March from Grania and Diarmid also are bigger than their titles might suggest, the first as reflective as it is opulent, the second really a brief, elegiac tone poem. It's a bit hard to get excited about either the Empire March or the March from Caractacus, and the March of the Mogul Emperors (from The Crown of India Suite) could crash and bash with more abandon, but there's certainly enough here to whet the appetite of committed Elgarians. The sonics are quite good--a touch low-level perhaps, but easily adjustable, with plenty of room to expand and good bass separation between timpani, bass drum, and organ pedals (which are well caught but not overbearing). In short, this is another successful collaboration between Judd and the New Zealanders--long may they continue.

Opera News, April 2005

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