Elgar: Piano Quintet in A minor Op. 84; String Quartet in E minor Op. 83

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COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Medici/Whitehall
WORKS: Piano Quintet in A minor Op. 84; String Quartet in E minor Op. 83
PERFORMER: John Bingham (piano); Medici String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MQCD 7002 DDD
Elgar’s three chamber works date from 1918, when he and his wife were staying at Brinkwells, a cottage in Sussex. It is most evident in the outer movements of the Piano Quintet that these woodland surroundings had a big effect on the atmosphere of the chamber works. They contain some of the most ghostly, mysterious music Elgar ever wrote. The central Adagio, by contrast, is warm and lyrical. It receives a searching performance, though the strings have a job articulating some of the faster passages. The recording is somewhat unkind to the sensitive John Bingham, and generally lacks definition.

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This is less of a problem in the Quartet, where the Medicis’ beautifully blended sound is especially impressive in quieter moments. There’s one alarming lapse of intonation at the close of the first movement, but the performance as a whole is a good one. Paul Robertson, the Quartet’s leader, also turns in a fine performance of the Sonata, though for beauty of tone he cannot compete with Nigel Kennedy’s superb recording.

The other item on this latter disc, ‘Wood Magic’, is an account of the background to these works, told mainly through Elgar’s letters. I fear it is better suited to its first life as a live performance, but it is very well executed, and provides a fascinating glimpse of Elgar’s endearingly grumpy old age.

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Full marks to the Medici Quartet for starting their own label: these first titles are also available on cassette, and are a few pounds cheaper than most other ‘full price’ recordings. Stephen Maddock