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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Piano Music
Sonatina in G major (1887 rev. 1930) [4:08]
Dream Children Op.43 (1902 orchestral version) [6:16]
Une Idylle Op.4 No.1 (1884) [4:10]
Carissima (1913) [4:14]
May Song (1901) [4:16]
Douce Pensée (Rosemary) (1882) [2:44]
Echo’s Dance (adapted and transcribed from The Sanguine Fan, Op.81 No.7 Allegro) (1916) [2:11]
Sérénade Mauresque: No. 2 of Three Characteristic Pieces, Op.10 (1899) [5:59]
Enigma Variations, Op.36 (1899) [32:48]
Ashley Wass (piano)
rec. St George’s Church, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 30 January-1 February 2006. DDD
NAXOS 8.570166 [66:58]

The prize here is Elgar’s own piano transcription of the Enigma Variations. This gets the very occasional outing in concert, though admittedly in very out of the way concerts. Having recently listened to a two-piano recording of the Grieg Piano Concerto, and to the Elgar First Symphony in piano reduction I was curious to see – and hear – how pianistic or un-pianistic the variations would turn out to be.

The answer is, on the whole, that this is a perfectly workable transcription, though one not always helped by Wass’s choice of tempo. The Theme is ponderous and suffers from an advanced case of phrase droop. C.A.E. isn’t sufficiently characterised so as to allow differentation from the opening theme – a dose of the pianistic equivalent of Toscanini or Monteux would have helped tremendously here. Once past these moments though and things are very much better. H.D.D.-P emerges as a surprisingly toccata-like affair in Wass’s hands. He drives into the striding left hand patterns of W.M.B. and brings real dignity to R.P.A. He lays Isobel bare in the wittiest terms and also brings a commensurate sense of chordal warmth. Nimrod is not too slow and gathers in power and passion whilst we can trace Schumann in Dorabella, as we perhaps fail to do in the orchestral version. B.G.N. is impressive; Wass has it splendidly. And the finale is graced with dynamic tremolos to bring the work to a rousing conclusion.

Most of the other pieces are cut from salon cloth. The Sonatina is a generously generic two movement affair. Like his early violin pieces I think you’d be very hard pressed to name the composer. Its melody lines however are characteristically pretty and like those violin works – though much less technically demanding – it makes for pleasant listening. Dream Children survives the transcription even for those of us whose memories turn back to 78s. Une Idylle wears its frank salon charms with unselfconscious ease. May Song was written in 1901 – rather late to be hinting at Chopin, or perhaps it’s never too late to hint at Chopin. And Wass proves adept at Elgarian rubato in Sérénade Mauresque which moves easily and with grace at a good tempo.

The arrangements work well – even Carissima, which I thought wouldn’t. The recording at St George’s Church, Brandon Hill is excellent and the performances, once the Enigma has settled down, are thoroughly convincing.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Reviews by Patrick Waller and John France

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