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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Chantant* (c.1872) [5:14]
Pastourelle* (1881) [2:19]
Rosemary (1882) [3:47]
Griffinesque* (1884) [0:24]
Sonatina* (1889) [3:30]
Presto* (1889) [2:03]
Minuet, Op.21 (1897) [4:33]
May Song (1901) [3:47]
Dream Children, Op.43 (1902) [6:07]
Skizze* (1903) [1:15]
In Smyrna (1905) [4:56]
Concert Allegro* (1901-1906) [10:03]
Carissima (1913) [4:52]
Sonatina* (1931) [4:02]
Serenade* (1932) [3:07]
Adieu* (1932) [2:53]
* Original piano music
Peter Pettinger (piano)
rec. St Silas Church, Belsize Park, London, June 1985
CHANDOS CHAN 10429X [64:40]

This comprehensive collection of Elgar’s piano music has been out of the catalogue for some time, and is now available in the Chandos ‘Classics’ price range. The programme includes unpublished or very little known original pieces for the instrument, together with the composer’s own arrangements for piano of five orchestral pieces, including Dream Children and Carissima. Peter Pettinger, who collectors might already know from his recordings with Nigel Kennedy, performs the pieces in chronological order, showing the gradual development and maturing of Elgar’s characteristic style. In his booklet notes he outlines the preparation and selection of the pieces presented, and indicates some of the problems encountered when trying to discover the true versions of pieces like the Serenade and Adieu, which have been arranged for all kinds of instrumentations and orchestrations since landing on the publisher’s desk.

Elgar never did write a huge amount for solo piano, preferring the luxuriant colours of the orchestra. The earliest pieces are of course attractive music in their own right, but display a variety of influences. Chantant was written when Elgar was 15, and was unearthed from the British Library Department of Manuscripts, and has something of a Nordic fresh-air feel to it. Pastourelle could also be a dance by someone like Grieg or Smetana, but Elgar’s facility with natural sounding melody is immediately apparent. The first piece which has touches of distinctive individuality is Rosemary, which has some of those harmonic leanings and suspended melodic arches which make pieces like ‘Salut d’Amour’ so delicious. The miniature Griffinesque is an enigma, with no explanation for its title or existence. Brevity is also a feature of the Sonatina, which was written for an eight-year-old niece of Elgar called May Grafton. The inclusion of the revised published version later on in this disc is a little disorientating among the later works, but the subtle differences make for some interesting comparisons.
Skizze is a miniature, but significant in Elgar’s canon of work. Jerrold Northrop Moore wrote of the piece that it is “…a microcosm of the musical world with which the composer surrounded The Apostles.” In a way, it heralds the real meat of this programme. In Smyrna goes along with the longest work by far, the Concert Allegro, as being his most important piano compositions. Smyrna, now Izmir in Turkey, was a port of call during a private cruise which Elgar made in the Mediterranean in 1905, and the work has indeed a great sense of atmosphere and exotic mystery. The Concert Allegro is the only work for piano solo which Elgar wrote with the concert hall foremost in mind, being written in short order for Fanny Davies’s St James’s Hall recital on 2nd December 1901. The work was subsequently shortened with the removal of a number of repetitions, and there are suggestions on the manuscript that Elgar had plans for a version with orchestra. The revised version is the one presented here, and it has all of the drama and emotional force which one would expect from the composer at the height of his powers.

The final two works have Elgar at his romantic best, Serenade having something of ‘Salut d’Amour’ in its expressive lines, and Adieu from the same year being a songlike piece, having a strangely narrative feel in its arch-like form.

The piano sound on this Chandos disc is lovely as you would expect, and the big acoustic of St. Silas Church is not unattractive for Peter Pettinger’s excellent pianism and musicianship. Given the salon nature of much of this repertoire the vast sound can seem to add a slightly misplaced grandeur to the programme, but once the ear has become accustomed to it you soon find  yourself concentrating more on the fascinating gems on offer. We can be grateful to both Chandos and Pettinger that so many rarely heard pieces are once again available to fans of Elgar, British music, and piano repertoire in general.

Dominy Clements



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