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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


AVAILABILITY

This recording is released by Elgar Editions which is the recording and publishing imprint of The Elgar Society.Copies of this CD can be obtained directly from Elgar Publications, 20 High Street, Rickmansworth, Herts. WD3 1ER. Tel: 01923 775882

e-mail: editions@elgar.org or preferably visit their website at www.elgar.org/7edon.htm

PRICE : £12.00 (inclusive of European postage; £1.00 extra for world-wide postage)

 

Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
David Owen Norris plays Elgar: Vol. 1 Solo Piano Music

Five Improvisations (1929): No. 1 in G major; No. 2 in G minor; No. 3 in G major; No. 4 in D major; No. 5 in D minor - A flat major
Skizze (1901)
Presto (1889)
Enina: valse (1886)
Chantant (1872)
Griffinesque (1884)
Sonatina (1889 rev.1930)
Imperial March (1897)
In Smyrna (1905)
Three Bavarian Dances (1895-1897)
Serenade (1932)
Concert Allegro Op. 46 (1901)
Adieu (1932)
David Owen Norris (piano)
Recorded at the Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton on 9-10 November 2002. DDD
ELGAR EDITIONS EECD002 [77:18]

There are four world premiere piano recordings by Sir Edward Elgar on this release, the first of a projected four volumes from the Elgar Editions label. For some strange reason we are not informed of this notable achievement on the CD case information. Elgar is not normally associated with the composition of piano music. Apart from transcriptions of some major works he did not write a great amount for the piano and what he did write tends to be overlooked.

It is generally forgotten that as well as being a violinist and bassoonist Elgar was also a fine pianist, particularly notable for private improvisation. In his teenage years Elgar would frequently assist his father in tuning customerís pianos and consequently would have been very familiar with the instrument. Iím sure that Elgarians will recall that Elgar struggled with a piano concerto for some considerable time; a work he was never to complete. Amongst the great late-romantic composers such as Mahler, Bruckner and Strauss, Elgar was one of the few that showed any real interest in composing for the instrument.

It may prove helpful to the reader to have some specific information on the quartet of works that are receiving their premiere recordings:

With regard to Five Improvisations the Elgar Society website and the booklet notes provide a fascinating and detailed background to the work:

It was in November 1929 that the ageing Sir Edward Elgar, by then an acknowledged pioneer of the gramophone, sat at the piano in the Small Queen's Hall prior to a recording session with the New Symphony Orchestra. He had persuaded HMV to record him and, in the course of the next hour, recorded (Elgar himself performing at the piano) five improvisations of great beauty, fascinating in their diverse origins and as pointers to compositions that Elgar toyed with but never completed. The recordings lay undisturbed in EMI's vaults for many years, unheard until included by Jerrold Northrop Moore in EMI's boxed sets of Elgar's recordings produced in the 1970s. Over the past ten years, David Owen Norris has made the improvisations his own, learning Elgar's recordings by ear (they were never written down), performing them in a number of public concerts and now making this first commercial recording of them for Elgar Enterprises.

The early Enina-waltz from 1886, is a short work lasting less than a minute in duration and is being given its premiere recording. David Owen Norris performs the work here from the unpublished single sheet manuscript held in the British Library.

Elgar composed the Imperial March, for orchestra, for Queen Victoriaís Diamond Jubilee in 1897, receiving performances at the Crystal Palace, a Royal Garden Party, a State Concert and at the Albert Hall. This piano version of the Imperial March, is as far as it can be established, being given its premiere recording here in Elgarís own transcription.

The substantial Concert Allegro from 1901 was a forgotten work for many years until rediscovered in the late 1960s when it was performed and recorded by the late John Ogdon. Here soloist David Owen Norris has returned to Elgar's original manuscript score which is held in the British Library. David Owen Norrisís careful exploration of the scoreís numerous alterations, cuts, paste-overs and annotations has allowed him to construct, perform and record, for the first time, the full version of the twelve minute Concert Allegro.

Of the nine other remaining works on this release the most substantial are the Chantant and the Three Bavarian Dances. The Chantant composed in 1872, when Elgar was a young man of fifteen, is mainly derivative of Schumann. The manuscript score used for this performance is a fair copy with neatly ruled bar-lines. In 1895 Elgar composed his six partsongs for chorus and orchestra Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands which is a legacy from Elgarís regular holidays near Munich. A year later Elgar completed a purely orchestral version of three of the scenes. David Owen Norris performs here Elgarís solo piano version of the Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands which is entitled Three Bavarian Dances.

From the first few bars of this Elgar Editions release Elgarís fingerprints become apparent. It seems so typical of the great man, who loved a jape, to have recorded these Improvisations at the ripe old age of 73. The Improvisations are the most substantial work on the disc, a blend of Elgarís serious and moody side combined with a certain feel of salon music; a combination that, owing to his genius, works so well. In fact, the light and melodic disposition of the fourth Improvisation could easily be used as a theme on a TV or radio programme.

The substantial Concert Allegro was originally entitled Concerto (without orchestra) and later given the title Allegro (Concert solo). It received disappointing reviews following its initial performances. It is so easy to hear Elgarís symphonic textures in the work, which Davis Owen Norris brings out so expertly. Iím rather surprised that it has not been transcribed for orchestra as it really seems to fit the bill.

The experienced soloist Davis Owen Norris clearly loves this music and comes across as a committed Elgarian. With distinguished and characterful playing just bursting with freshness and sparkle, there is no doubting the soloistís innate sympathy with Elgarís wide range of atmosphere and expression. Davis Owen Norrisís interpretations are extremely accomplished, displaying the ability to portray the appropriate atmosphere within the often brief timescales, capturing Elgarís moods and colouring so impressively.

The sound quality of the recording is very natural and assists in making the case for this neglected corner of the Elgar catalogue. The booklet notes written by the soloist David Owen Norris are concise but informative.

An illuminating disc for all Elgarians. It will surely appeal to a far greater audience. Highly recommendable.

Michael Cookson

and Lewis Foreman writes:-

At a CD launch at the Savile Club sponsored by Elgar Editions on 4 April, the pianist David Owen Norris introduced his pioneering programme of Elgarís piano music, tantalisingly headed Vol 1. Here is a production where the booklet, by the pianist, is almost as important as the performances in discussing Elgarís relationship both to the keyboard and to his inspiration. Early and late: here we have four early pieces and a succession of late one including David Owen Norrisís transcription of Elgarís piano improvisations, made in the small Queenís Hall on 6 November 1929, but not issued commercially until EMIís historic LP set "Elgar on Record".

In his notes the pianist reminds us that a keyboard improvisation by an orchestral composer of Elgarís imagination launches Ďon an unknown sea of spontaneous creation, unconstrained by notationí, and admits that his Ďown second thoughts on Elgarís behalf are also the work of ear and hand aloneí. Thus where Elgar was clearly constrained by the ending of a 4Ĺ minute side Norris has to decide where to stop. His solution is eminently artistic, not to say Elgarian: ĎThe last Improvisation follows an intricate pattern of thought, with quasi-recapitulations and fleeting thematic references. I'm convinced that Elgar would have wanted to recall his beautiful melody, and so I bring back its second phrase in combination with the opening rising thirds, and I play the falling sequences from its beginning in a circular imitation similar to a passage in the Finale of the First Symphony. Then I return to Elgar's final cadence, with its unmistakable and moving reference to the word "wiedersehen" in the soprano aria in Brahms's Requiem.í In discussing the limitations of Elgarís piano technique, Norris suddenly produced my musical aphorism of the month: íElgar wasnít Oscar Petersoní. Well no, but the flavour of Elgarís improvisations come from his idiosyncratic pianism, though without the ultimate in virtuosity, and a fertility of invention which he shares with Peterson.

Framing the whole programme is the Sonatina, dating from 1889 but revised for publication in 1930 and fascinatingly analysed by Norris. Here also is In Smyrna, the source of "Hail Immemorial Ind!" in Crown of India, and piano transcriptions of the Imperial March and Three Bavarian Dances. The other discovery of the programme is Elgarís Concert Allegro, possibly thought by many Elgarians to be one of his few duds, and certainly viewed in that light by critics at the first performance by the celebrated Fanny Davies a pupil of Clara Schumann. Frankly, even in John Ogdonís celebrated recording this is a piece that has never loomed large on my Elgarian horizons. This is music in which Elgar bowed to the suggestions of his pianist, and David Owen Norris believes that Fanny Davies played the piece at anything down to half speed. As he writes in the notes: ĎThe clues lie in Fanny Davies's pencilled suggestions on the MS. As a pupil of Clara Schumann's, she had been 'properly trained' - something of which Elgar's particular genius had never known the need. To take one example, the classic style of piano playing frowns at putting the thumb on a black note. As I know from my recreations of his improvising, Elgar had no such inhibitions. And the Concert Allegro is full of passage-work where the obvious thing to do is to preserve the finger pattern you first thought of, which means that the thumb often ends up on a black note. In many of these places, Fanny suggests alterations that would enable her to twist her fingers round in a different way, often at the expense of Elgar's harmonic integrity. ... The gulf between her musical world and Elgar's couldn't be clearer. Fanny's finicky fingering would immediately slow down the glorious rush of Elgar's semi-quavers. And for anyone out-of-tune enough with Elgar to attempt to curb his rhetoric, there's a pitfall right at the opening of the piece, where the crotchet chords are marked risoluto and look (to a pianist) as if they should be played in a heavy, deliberate manner. It takes more than a moment to see beyond one's assumptions, and realize that Elgar has specified two beats in a bar, not four, and put a swift metronome mark of Minim=88.í

This a wonderful example of practical musicology by a pianist totally in sympathy with his subject Ė intelligent, idiomatic playing, a sympathetic eminently realistic recorded sound and the promise of other volumes to follow; it could not be better. Recommended.

Lewis Foreman



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