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Strange farrago

Elgar's 'Starlight Express' -
reviewed by

'... accomplished and imbued with the sort of affection the work desperately needs.'

Elgar - The Starlight Express. © 2004 EMI Records Ltd

Any connection between a 'drunken sailor' and The Starlight Express may seem far-fetched. It is just the problem of what shall we do with them both. It is more than understandable that an Elgar, worn down and wearied to the depths of his spirit by the senseless ravages of World War I, should long for any excuse to escape from the ever-pressing horrors. That he found it in the strange farrago presented to him by Lena Ashwell in November 1915 has landed his successors with an impossible problem: the music, much of it in Elgar's lightest and most attractive vein, is wedded to a story that can cause only embarrassment.

It was not for nothing that Elgar signed himself off at the end of the full score as 'ae [aetatis] 15' amid drawings of mice and a stalking cat. Initially he thought the Wand of Youth suites, which supplied some of the music, would suffice for the project completely. That, he claimed, originated from an even younger age. But now at '15' he sought to recapture a neverland of his early days that might temporarily shut out the cacophony of war. Elgar wrote that the original Wand of Youth tunes were partly an attempt to make his own parents relive the innocence of childhood.

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Copyright © 7 September 2004 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt


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