String Quartet in E minor, Op.83
Mina; Laura Valse; March in D; Impromptu
Piano Quintet in A minor, Op.84
Goldner String Quartet [Dene Olding & Dimity Hall (violins), Irina Morozova (viola) & Julian Smiles (cello)]
Piers Lane (piano)
Recorded 3-5 July 2010 in Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, UK
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2011
CD No: HYPERION CDA67857
Duration: 78 minutes
This is another Hyperion winner (the fourth) for the Goldner String Quartet and Piers Lane – see links below – this time of Elgar’s music. His sole string quartet and his only piano quintet are relatively late pieces, the Cello Concerto following in their wake, all three works emerging as World War I, but not its aftermath, had run its course.
The first movement of the String Quartet is a passionate and reflective affair, superbly attended to by the members of the Goldner Quartet, the music at once seminal and expansive, motifs kept in view, the very human feelings expressed given poignant vent without distorting the overall shape. The wistful slow movement – perhaps reminding of the Brahms of the Clarinet Quintet – is especially rewarding in this performance, the musicians letting Elgar’s declarations play themselves while being fully immersed in their suggestions of summer-autumn changeovers. The athletic finale is dynamically handled, its retreats to reverie fully communed and made integral.
Elgar’s String Quartet absorbs while not giving up its secrets easily. This performance by the Goldner Quartet is certainly one to keep by one’s side to explore the work more fully. In contrast to its concentration, the Piano Quintet is a more expansive and outgoing piece, once past the rather spare and shadowy slow introduction. The main Allegro is virile and with some thoughtfully composed interplay between piano and strings as the first movement journeys through perhaps-unexpected playfulness (not least the dance that might just be thought Spanish) and expands into pages of profound sadness – all beautifully managed by Piers Lane and the Goldner musicians who have developed a rather special rapport. The core of the Piano Quintet is the slow movement, an Adagio with all the nobilmente and emotional sap that could be wished for, opened out here with a collective big heart and a rich sense of narrative. Shadows return to open the finale, an ornately expressed culmination not without detours that keep the listener intrigued.
In between the chamber works, Piers Lane plays four of Elgar’s miniatures for piano, covering the years 1887 to 1933. Lane’s ravishing touch brings gentle life to Mina. Laura Valse (1887) has an interesting history in that the autograph (authenticated) belonged to Steve Race. Since the pianist and broadcaster’s death (in 2009) the score he owned has not come to light, so we hear Tim Murray’s transcription of Race’s own performance that he recorded on a cassette for a talk. It’s a lovely piece, with just a hint of Elgar! Similarly, the March in D, although likeable, doesn’t necessarily shout this composer at you; rather Schubertian in fact, a Marche militaire. The 1932 Impromptu is fascinating, all 24 seconds of it. It is but a sketch and appears unfinished – certainly imperfectly cadenced at the ‘end’ – another Elgarian enigma – and could easily pass as being by Schumann, regarded by Anthony Payne as Elgar’s true German counterpart rather than Brahms. Suffice to say that Lane plays all these salon pieces with great sympathy.
With sound quality judged to a nicety and typically first-class annotation and presentation, once again Piers Lane and the Goldner String Quartet give us something very special.