is no indication on this CD that this is a first volume.
Are we to suppose that this is Anthony Wass’s only recital of
Elgar’s piano music, or do we expect another CD in the near future?
Certainly there are just about enough piano pieces to fill a second
volume, even if most of the works would be arrangements or pieces
as yet unpublished. Yet sadly Naxos appear to start off ‘cycles’
of music only to give up part way through – we need only think
of the Liszt and Ireland piano music projects.
But let us assume
that this is the first instalment. My first criticism
is that the works are not chronological. The main competition
is probably Peter Pettinger’s recital on Chandos and the putative
‘Complete Piano Music of Edward Elgar’ played by David Owen
Norris. Yet this last project has so far only resulted in
the first volume. Pettinger is largely in date order but omits
the piano version of the Enigma Variations. David Owen
Norris includes a few of the unpublished pieces in his recital
and promises every scrap of piano music that fell from the
composer’s pen – a trainspotter’s delight.
Yet Wass’s recital
seems to lack rhyme or reason. The only substantial piece
is the Enigma Variations – the rest are by and large
attractive but minor salon pieces. I would have expected at
least one other heavyweight such as the Concert Allegro
or the impressionistic In Smyrna.
But let’s see
what we do have. The recital opens with the 1930 revision
of the early Sonatina. This lovely work was composed
in 1887 for a certain May Grafton who happened to be Elgar’s
niece. The work is in two movements: an Andantino and an
Allegro. The latter is marked ‘as fast as you can’ which may
have been a tall order for an eight year old girl. The first
movement was originally an ‘allegretto’ but was revised to
a slightly gentler pace.
with an arrangement of the nostalgic Dream Children.
This is a work that falls into the same category as the Wand
of Youth Suites and Nursery Suite. It is perhaps
epitomised by the inscription on the score, an excerpt from
an essay by Charles Lamb: “We are not of Alice, nor of thee,
nor are we children at all ..... We are nothing; less than
nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been ...."
Alice was perhaps to be identified in the composer’s mind
with the Windflower – his ‘friend’ and ‘confidante’. Elgar
once told Sir Sidney Colvin: "I am still at heart the
dreamy child who used to be found in the reeds by Severnside,
with a sheet of paper trying to fix the sounds and longing
for something very great."
(1884) was originally composed for violin and piano and was
a part of Elgar’s Op. 4 which also includes a Pastourelle
and a Virelai. The three pieces were dedicated to
a certain E.E in Inverness and were composed in remembrance
of a holiday romance. The Idylle is a typical wistful
piece that serves its intention well.
Wass then jumps
forward some thirty years to 1913. The attractive Carissima
was originally composed for small orchestra. Apparently the
material was derived from some of Elgar's musical sketchbooks.
Curiously this orchestral miniature was destined to become
the first piece that Sir Edward recorded for HMV. As the programme
notes point out this is a work that has ‘immediate appeal,
in the composer’s unmistakable musical language’.
was another piece originally composed for violin and piano
and is a fine example of the better kind of salon music that
was so prevalent at the turn of the century. The middle ‘trio’
is absolutely perfect in its balance and sentiment.
(Rosemary) is another fine example of the genre and is
subtitled ‘For Remembrance.’ But somehow I think this
epithet may have been for the publisher and his public rather
than representing the composer’s autobiographical thoughts.
I must confess
that I just love Echo’s Dance (1917) from The Sanguine
Fan. Once again we have a work that was inspired by Lady
Alice Stuart-Wortley who is better known to Elgarians as ‘Windflower’.
She suggested to the composer that he write a ballet: it was
to be a charity affair raising funds to help with ‘Concerts
at the Front’. The libretto is basically about Pan and Echo
– playing their duets in a Watteau-inspired landscape. The
title of the ballet derives from a painted fan by a local
artist depicting the two gods. ‘Sanguine’ actually refers
to a red chalk that was the artist’s medium - so is largely
incidental to the plot of the ballet.
The last of the
miniatures is the ‘Serenade mauresque’ which the programme
notes suggest seems to drift back and forth between the shores
of Spain and the Malvern Hills. It is the piece I least enjoyed
yet the ‘English’ bit is quite attractive, the Spanish perhaps
a bit derivative. It was the second of the Three Characteristic
It is not necessary
to discuss the Enigma Variations in any great detail
as it is possibly one of the best known works by Elgar and
in fact by any British composer. I was not too sure how to
approach this piano ‘reduction’. Was it worth listening to?
Or is it just a kind of study aid?
I was surprised
to find out that there are at least two other versions currently
available including Anthony Goldstone [MRCD94001] playing
Elgar’s Broadwood piano and Maria Garzon on ASV [CDDCA1065]
- so that gave me some confidence in the work. I was a bit
concerned about the provenance of this transcription – was
it by Elgar himself or by someone at a later date? A brief
look at Elgar’s ‘Letters to his Publisher’ revealed that the
piano version was presented to Novellos at the same time as
the orchestral score – so it was not an afterthought or a
I was thus able
to sit down and listen to a ‘genuine’ piano work by Sir Edward
and not feel that somehow I was being cheated or short-changed.
Let me say straightaway
that I was seriously impressed by the clarity of the work.
The piano version, although obviously simplified, brings out
lines of musical thought, harmonies and nuances that appear
to be lost in the more complex orchestral score. Much as I
love the orchestral version – especially when conducted by
Sir Adrian Boult - I do feel that this piano transcription
deserves a life of its own.
As with all CDs released
by Anthony Wass the piano playing is excellent. As noted above,
the structure of the Enigma Variations is revealed as I
have never heard it before. He does not play the ‘salon’ pieces
in a style that is patronising, but reveals the wistfulness and
longing that are inherent in their style.
For reviews of other Naxos releases of British composers,
see the themed