Piano Quintet in A minor Op.84

Composer: Edward Elgar (b. 1857 - d. 1934)
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Composer: Edward Elgar (b. 1857 - d. 1934)

Performance date: 28/06/2022

Venue: Bantry House

Composition Year: 1919

Duration: 00:39:44

Recording Engineer: Eduardo Prado, Ergodos

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc, pf

Instrumentation Category:Quintet

Artists: Alasdair Beatson - [piano]
Doric String Quartet (Alex Redington, Ying Xue [violins], Hélène Clément [viola], John Myerscough [cello] - [quartet]

Edward Elgar [1857-1934]

Piano Quintet in A minor, Op.84 [1918-19]

1. Moderato – Allegro

2. Adagio

3. Andante – Allegro

Elgar’s Piano Quintet is part of a burst of creative activity that saw the Violin Sonata, the Quartet and the Cello Concerto all spring to life alongside it in the years 1918-19. This in fact proved to be his swan song as after his wife Alice died the next year he was unable to compose any more. The inspiration for all these works came from extended visits to the Sussex countryside, to a cottage called Brinkwells. The war had been a bad time for Elgar, he had been ill, he loathed London and he was fed up with composing patriotic works. His illness proved to be tonsillitis and after their removal in March 1918 his health improved along with the move to the country. The work was given a private performance by the Brodsky Quartet and the pianist William Murdock the following April before being premiered at the Wigmore Hall. The Quintet was dedicated to the great critic and biographer of Wagner, Ernest Newman.

The moderato introduction creates a mood of mystery and uncertainty with its strange hesitancies and little staccato mottos. This unfolds into a slow dance measure of vaguely oriental character, which is broken into by the Allegro, a vigorous but banal march-like theme, symbolic perhaps of the years just ended. The second theme quickly takes over, picking up from the dance of the opening and transforming it into a Spanish dance with guitar accompaniment before suddenly moving to the Viennese cafés with a full-blown waltz, which fades back into the moderato and its unsettling staccato murmurs. This mysterious development is answered by a magical bell-like theme that seems to assuage these doubts before giving way to a forceful working out of the material. This eventually calms down for a return of the dances complete with the magic bells. The coda is made up of a rerun of the moderato and the close is quiet and hesitant.

The new answer is the radiant Adagio theme in the viola, which the composer of Nimrod knows full well how to exploit. The movement builds to one storm driven climax, followed by a passionate statement of the theme itself. The mood for the rest is restrained and lyrical, though not without opportunity for the strings to demonstrate their richness of tone. The long drawn out close is particularly effective.

The Andante introduction returns us immediately to the doubts of the first movement, which the robust Allegro theme can only crush without answering. This is proven by the moment of reflection at the centre of all this activity, when the staccato motto and the Spanish dance of the first movement resurface. Afterwards there is a gradual build up to a jubilant and noisy finish. And you will find in the cool of the night that it is the Adagio theme that stays in the mind and we might wonder if this is what he was trying to say to us, that he would give all the pomp and circumstance for one well wrought and deeply felt Adagio. 

Francis Humphrys