Elgar (1857-1934) - Introduction and Allegro for Strings
years separated Elgar's two major string orchestral works. During that
period he developed from what we might impolitely term a “hick musician”
into an international celebrity with a string of major compositions under
his belt. Admittedly, he needed luck, in the form of Richard Strauss singing
his praises, but it took hard slog - and dogged persistence in the face
of metropolitan apathy - to drive himself into a position where such accolades
for Strings (1892) has spine-tingling charm, but is nevertheless what
we might impolitely term “hick music”: simple and undemanding (and therefore
a proper serenade). The origin of the Introduction and Allegro
was also simple: according to Elgar, his inspiration was a folk-tune, distantly-heard
whilst holidaying in Wales. Apparently though, he may have been spinning
a romanticised line, so we're probably safer sticking with Jaeger's documented
request for something to showcase the strings of the newly-formed LSO.
respects, the resulting work reflects those thirteen years of ripening.
Elgar resurrected the baroque Concerto Grosso style, wherein a group of
soloists (the concertino) alternately emerges from and blends back
into the orchestral ranks (the ripieno). In this “pure” form, the
aural impact is utterly different from the classical Concerto with the
soloist(s) right up front: Elgar's embedded string quartet, like that fabled
folk-tune, drifts within the musical landscape, a magical intimation of
individuality amid corporate nature, so tellingly envisaged in Ken Russell's
film about Elgar.
he compounded with some highly original sonorities, evidence both of long
years of practical experience and his very “modern” outlook. Alright, it
hardly challenges the likes of Bartók and Penderecki, but then Elgar
was their forerunner. Perhaps, though, the most startling feature
is the formal structure which, belying the deceptively simple title, does
seem impenetrable (it took me years to penetrate it!). However, once penetrated,
it reveals a dazzling degree of order and balance:
The three main themes - an imperious, oscillating Descent, a fluttery
and a short-phrased Lyric (that fabled folk-tune, on solo viola)
- are worked into a rondo-like tapestry, climaxing on the
over a thrumming bass, capped by several emphatic chords. These leave Lyric
weaving a nostalgic spell, yielding to a welling then hesitant Caprice
- an important structural signpost!
A new theme, a quick, nervous Stutter, builds to a cascading climax.
passionately extended, culminates boldly over a “thrilling” chord. As this
subsides, Lyric creeps in, evocatively coloured, to complete a new
three-subject exposition! The ensuing development is a virtuosic fugue
which, to my ears at least, is based on Lyric (with a dash of Descent),
festooned with ornaments. Gradually, what sounds like an augmented retrograde
of Lyric emerges, effectively doubling the fugue. As the slower
lines dampen the propulsive energy the fugue dissipates, leaving Stutter
fretting out a coda. Caprice, the signpost, now flags the recapitulation,
which starts with Stutter but curtails Descent to promote
Lyric into the dominant, climactic role, finally achieving a true
nobilmente. But it is Caprice that skips off like the clappers,
into a clear and definite coda whose final, resonant chord gives way to
a cheeky, throwaway pizzicato.
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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