LABELS: Dutton Epoch
ALBUM TITLE: Elgar & Collins
WORKS: Piano Concerto
PERFORMER: David Owen Norris, BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra, David Lloyd Jones
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7148
Elgar tinkered with a piano concerto for about 20 years; he achieved a two-piano draft of the so-called ‘slow movement’ (more of a caprice) that he gave to Harriet Cohen, but the sketch materials for the others, though abundant, are much more fragmentary and enigmatic. Robert Walker’s realisation makes intelligent use of the five piano Improvisations that Elgar recorded in 1929 for HMV, which clearly treat elements intended for the Concerto. But the result is hardly the undeniable work that Anthony Payne made of the Third Symphony. At best it’s a fluent presentation of the materials, set within a plausible overall structure and tonal scheme.
Walker has composed a little to fill gaps but a surprisingly large proportion (as David Owen-Norris’s bar-by-bar analysis shows) is in one way or another authentic Elgar. What cannot be authentic is the lack of finish, polish and coherence: he would presumably have brought much more to it. The orchestration is efficient but without Elgar’s brilliance. Despite the evident commitment of the performance the first movement, and to a lesser extent the finale, simply seem diffuse and, despite all Walker’s efforts to the contrary, bitty. Fine characteristic tunes (the work’s opening is a superb idea) appear and disappear, while the mood veers from symphony to salon. The central movement, newly modified by Walker, remains delightful. Fascinating: but not, I fear, about to take its place in the repertoire in the way that Elgar-Payne 3 has.
The assorted couplings are very worthwhile, especially Anthony Payne’s orchestration of the Princess Alexandra memorial ode and Anthony Collins’s plangent orchestral Elegy, but overall this is a release for Elgaromanes only. Calum MacDonald