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List: The Piano Quartet / Quintet. Smallman
Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Nationality: English
Born: June 2, 1857, Broadheath Died: February 23, 1934, Worcester (age 76)

Piano Quintet in a minor, Op. 84

(for 2 violins, viola, cello and piano)
13:49 I. Moderato - Allegro
11:50 II. Adagio
10:30 III. Andante - Allegro
Duration: 37 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1918-1919 (age 60-62)
Premiere: May 21, 1919
Published: 1919 (age 61-62)
Dedication: Ernest Newman
10 recordings, 22 videos
autoplay
14:15
Medici Quartet, Bingham
I. Moderato - Allegro
11:47
Medici Quartet, Bingham
II. Adagio
10:48
Medici Quartet, Bingham
III. Andante - Allegro
13:39
Marie-Elisabeth Hecker
I. Moderato - Allegro
12:02
Marie-Elisabeth Hecker
II. Adagio
10:44
Marie-Elisabeth Hecker
III. Andante - Allegro
13:48
Daniel Roberts, Primrose Piano Quartet
I. Moderato - Allegro
11:36
Daniel Roberts, Primrose Piano Quartet
II. Adagio
10:33
Daniel Roberts, Primrose Piano Quartet
III. Andante - Allegro
13:28
Aura Ensemble
I. Moderato - Allegro
11:40
Aura Ensemble
II. Adagio
10:37
Aura Ensemble
III. Andante - Allegro
13:35
Peter Donohoe, Maggini Quartet
I. Moderato - Allegro
12:13
Peter Donohoe, Maggini Quartet
II. Adagio
10:12
Peter Donohoe, Maggini Quartet
III. Andante - Allegro
35:21
Stratton Quartet, Cohen
34:49
Spencer Dyke Quartet, Hobday
37:28
Sorrel Quartet, Brown
34:41
Ensemble Liverpool
14:20
Barnatan, Miró Quartet
I. Moderato - Allegro
10:53
Barnatan, Miró Quartet
II. Adagio
9:57
Barnatan, Miró Quartet
III. Andante - Allegro
From Kai Christiansen

Sir Edward Elgar, 1857-1934

Piano Quintet in a minor, Op. 84, 1919

Sir Edward ElgarIn a few short years after the first world war and before the death of his wife, Sir Edward Elgar realized his last important productive period as a composer. He moved from London to the Sussex countryside seeking refuge from a variety of overbearing concerns including the war, poor health, financial troubles and the loss of close friends. Inspired by walks in the woods, Elgar turned his attention almost exclusively to chamber music, composing a violin sonata, a string quartet and the Piano Quintet in a minor. The quintet joins the small group of outstanding piano quintets including those by Schumann, Brahms, Dvořák and Franck. Elgar's quintet, though written as late as 1919, is intensely late Romantic, representing the twilight of the idiom well into the rising tide of modernism.

Passages from Lady Elgar's diary reveal the apparent programmatic inspiration for the quintet: a copse of bare trees, sad and sinister, was associated by local legend with evil Spanish monks whose punishment was to be cast into these static forms of longing regret. At the same time, Elgar nurtured his interest in supernatural Gothic fiction. Whether or not the quintet tells a particular story, it is highly suggestive, particularly in the first movement. Given the context of Elgar's life at the time, however, one easily wonders if the quintet was not actually based on a much more personal program of thoughts and feelings.

The first movement is the most unusual of the three. It is dark, arresting and enigmatic. It is a fitful dream episodically haunted by several recurring components: a cryptic pair of motives, a wistful sigh, a driving march and a ghostly dance. The piano intones the initial motive (broken in two groups), with agitated interjections from the strings. Close attention reveals that most of the music is derived from this pregnant beginning. The eight-note motive and its agitated reply run throughout the music: in the base line of the driving march, the rhythmic lilt of the disembodied dance and the subject of a powerful fugato at the movement's climax. Anchored by this motivic unity, the music drifts in and out of tableaux and ends where it started, with the broken shards of the ominous motives.

The middle movement is often praised as the highlight of the quintet and Elgar's chamber music in general. Based on a long, slow and spacious melody from the viola, it is tender, nostalgic and elegiac. But within its compassionate reflection, it drifts chromatically into the eerie suspense of the first movement and swells into a tumult of hyper-romantic angst. Ultimately a reverie, it still recalls the sharp pain of tragedy. As evidence of Elgar's compositional skill, the textures constantly shift, highlighting the reedy song of the viola, the liquid clarity of the piano, an aching duet with the cello, the charged atmosphere of shivering strings and pizzicato. Supremely affective, the adagio brings to mind the delicacy and finesse of the French, the longing of the Viennese and the "woody, autumnal" grace of the English.

Sir Edward ElgarIf the first movement is dark, and the second movement warm, the final movement is decidedly bright, at least in the end. Elgar begins with a direct quote of the wistful sigh from the first movement, a ghost of the past returned. Shortly, the mood is shaken and the music launches into a new 6/8 theme, recalling and developing the sweeping dance motion into a sparkling brightness. As if with a final, transfixed look backwards, the movement thins into ghostly transition and a complete recall of the jagged darkness of the original motive and its companion specters, before returning once again to the final triumph of light. The recurrence of multiple "motto" themes gives the quintet a strong cyclical unity leaving a complex but curiously singular impression.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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