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

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COMPOSERS: Elgar
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 83; Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84
PERFORMER: Sorrel Quartet; Ian Brown (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9894
Both the String Quartet and the Piano Quintet date from Elgar’s postwar Indian summer at ‘Brinkwells’ in the heart of Sussex. The big orchestral and choral works were mostly behind him and he turned once again to the intimate medium of chamber music, one virtually untouched by him for 30 years. The Piano Quintet in particular is instinct with the nostalgia and sadness that filled Elgar’s misty-eyed gaze as he looked back to happier days for both himself and the world around him, and that mood must never be far from the surface in any serious-minded interpretation.

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The Sorrel Quartet with Ian Brown suggest an authentic note of fragility and the finale’s ghostly echoes of palmier days are beautifully evocative. The competition is severe, however. The Maggini with Peter Donohoe on Naxos offer a very fine alternative at budget price, while the Soloists of the LSO with Israela Margalit in EMI’s Anglo-American Chamber Music Series have the edge in terms of amplitude of tone – especially important in the passages of Brahmsian richness. My top recommendation, however, would remain the Hyperion recording of the Nash Ensemble, also with Ian Brown, which combines high-calibre individual playing with all the requisite nostalgic resonances. (The coupling is the Violin Sonata.)

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The Maggini alone provides direct competition by coupling the Quintet with the Quartet. The Sorrel is more demonstrative at the start of the Quartet, but later it is the Maggini that is the more urgent. That sublime moment of inwardness towards the end of the first movement, however, is captured to perfection by the Sorrel, so you are unlikely to be dissatisfied with either of these fine accounts. Barry Millington