Elgar: String Quartet; Piano Quintet

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LABELS: Discover
WORKS: String Quartet; Piano Quintet
PERFORMER: Aura Ensemble
Elgar completed his final chamber works (these discs exclude the Violin Sonata, Op. 82) and valedictory Cello Concerto at Brinkwells, his Sussex cottage retreat, during the aftermath of the Great War. The Piano Quintet (‘full of old times’ wrote the composer) rekindles pre-war contentment, while the String Quartet (like the Violin Sonata) is resigned and contemplative. This natural pairing, previously unavailable at budget price, is another Naxos issue that is finer than most in the catalogue. Pianist Peter Donohoe is outstanding in the Quintet. With the Maggini Quartet, he plumbs the music’s nostalgic undertow deeper than did John Bingham and the Medici (Whitehall). There’s more rapture in the Adagio’s sunnier climes than the Nash Ensemble suggest (Hyperion), though Marcia Crayford’s reading of the Sonata deserves a hearing. The Maggini constantly impresses in the Elgar Quartet; there are reminders of the landmark Thirties Stratton Quartet version. The Aura Ensemble, too, turn in decent accounts of both works; but for the competition, its Discover disc would have been a winner at the price. Comparison finds it less polished and probing than the Maggini, and its pianist Hans Jörg Fink has nothing on Donohoe. Michael Jameson