Elgar: Concert Allegro; Chantant; Bavarian Dances; Improvisations

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Elgar Editions
WORKS: Concert Allegro; Chantant; Bavarian Dances; Improvisations
PERFORMER: David Owen Norris (piano)
For Elgar, the piano was more a means to an end than an end in itself. It was by improvising at the keyboard that he ‘discovered’ the seeds of several of his major choral and orchestral works. Original piano music makes up only a very small part of his output, and David Owen Norris has had to pad it out with arrangements of works for other mediums to make a decently filled CD. That said, there are some appealing things here: the five Improvisations recorded directly on to disc for EMI in 1929, and the at-times almost impressionistic In Smyrna, which shows that Elgar did have a genuine, adventurous sense of piano colour and texture. But the outstanding work by some way is the Concert Allegro, and having heard Norris’s performance I simply can’t get over how much more impressive it sounds than on the rare occasions I’ve heard it before. It has brilliance, fantastical humour and best of all Norris knows how to make Elgar’s long chains of sequences sound expressive rather than ploddingly repetitive. He also makes a very good case for the restored cut passages – you don’t always improve Elgar by trying to make him more concise. Altogether, this is an enjoyable collection, played with obvious devotion, and sympathetically recorded. Stephen Johnson