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Edward ELGAR (1857 - 1934)
Piano Quintet in A Minor Op. 84 35'34"
Sospiri Op.70* 3'28"
The Farm Yard (Harmony Music No 4)** 13'49"

Frederick DELIUS (1862 - 1934)
Violin Sonata No 3 16'47"
Violin Sonata No 2* 11'27"
Violin Sonata No 1* 20'30"
Cello Sonata* 14'20"
Soloists of the London Symphony Orchestra & Isreala Margalit.
Recording details. CD1 Unitarian Chapel, Rosslyn Hill, London 10 Dec 1994 And All Saints, East Finchley 29 Sept* and 29 Nov 1995** CD2 Conway Hall, London 3 Oct 1994* and 4 Oct 1994 DDD
EMI British Composers CZS 5 73992 2 CDI 52'51" CD2 63'04"
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Chamber Music by Elgar and Delius, two of the triumvirate of English composers who died in the same year of 1934 (Gustav Holst was the third), is combined to make up this double CD in the British Composers Series from EMI. Musically there is not a lot of common ground between the two men. Neither is best remembered for his chamber music and this recording may introduce it to new listeners.

The Piano Quintet dates from 1918 / 19 when Elgar was having a settled, happy and artistically fruitful life. It was the late flowering period during which he wrote his Violin Sonata, String Quartet and the Cello Concerto - his last major works, as following his wife's death in 1920 he virtually gave up composition.

The performers are not a named group but, apart from the pianist, are all orchestral players from the LSO. They give a committed reading with a thoughtful approach to this contemplative, dignified work of Elgar's later years. The opening Moderato with its delightful mood changes is very appealing ,while the long breathed melody in the Allegro is ravishing. The bold and brisk approach taken to the Finale closes a satisfying reading. The balance at times allowed the louder piano chords to dominate otherwise the ensemble is excellent.

Elgar wrote Sospiri in 1914 and as played on this disc by violin and piano it makes a contrast with its better known self for Strings, Harp and Organ. Just a tiny work - once heard it haunts the listener. The word means sighs and the hearer can read into the music whatever he wishes about the composer's thoughts as he wrote it. There surely is an untold story there somewhere.

The quaintly titled The Farm Yard has a curious history. As a young man of twenty Elgar was appointed leader to a local Orchestra in Worcester. Because he was expected to coach players on their own instruments he took up the bassoon, quickly formed a Wind Quintet and proceeded to write music for it. This piece for two flutes, oboe, clarinet and bassoon is the composer's first attempt at a large-scale sonata-form structure. It turns out to be an attractive work with lots of contrapuntal interplay and a number of snippets of promising themes and could well become a staple piece for a wind quintet - perhaps as an Innocent Ear test on the audience.

A CD of three Violin Sonatas and a Cello Sonata by Delius may not sound overly gripping to the potential buyer, but if he does take the plunge I think he may surprise himself and might even enjoy his purchase. There are in fact four violin sonatas, the earliest dating from 1892 was rejected by the composer until it was published in 1977. The three on the disc are - like Miss World - in reverse order.

Violin Sonata No 3 to give it its full title, dates from 1930, the period when dictating to Eric Fenby was enabling the very sick Delius to continue to compose. Fenby found some sketches existed for the work that pre-dated it before No 2 and these were incorporated. Alexander Barantschik and Israela Margalit seem in perfect accord over interpretation - especially in the rather strange middle movement that begins as a slightly jaunty passage then switches to a broad slow theme.

For the other two Sonatas the pianist changes her partner to Janice Graham. No 2 (from 1923) needed Delius' wife to enable him to write the score from his dictation - he could still see at this time. The work has three linked movements , with, notably a lento movement with an entrancing string melody. No 1- begun in 1905 and completed 10 years later - is written without a break and is the longest of the three. As previously the duo make a deeply committed pairing.

The Cello Sonata dates from 1916 and is in a continuous but clearly defined three-section form. Soloist Moray Welsh has a full, rich tone and with expressive phrasing the busy cello part is a feature of the piece that seems to dwell on a Delius warmer and more approachable than in the later works on the disc.

Not everyone's cup of tea, but there are goodies in the disc if you persevere.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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