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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Piano Transcriptions Vol. 2
Falstaff Op.68 (1913, arr. Sigfrid Karg-Elert) [35:57]
Pomp and Circumstance Marchs Nos. 1-6 (transc. David Owen Norris): No.1 in D major (1901) [6:34]: No.2 in A minor (1901) [6:24]: No.3 in C minor (1904) [6:31]: No.4 in G major (1907) [5:50]: No.5 in C major (1930) [6:35]: No.6 in G minor [3:04]
David Owen Norris (piano)
rec. Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, 2008?
Experience Classicsonline

This, the second volume in Elgar Editions’ series devoted to the piano music, or, as in this second volume, to transcriptions for piano. The earlier disc took in the Five Improvisations, Sonatina, Imperial March, In Smyrna, Three Bavarian Dances, Serenade, the Concert Allegro Op. 46 and sundry other small things but there is a rival series of sorts on Naxos in which Ashley Wass has already given us a transcription of the Enigma Variations. On Somm 069 we also have Mark Bebbington playing the First Symphony arranged for Piano by Sigfrid Karl-Elert. Really I’ve no idea who is buying these discs - one would have thought they’re aimed at the more niche market, whatever that might be - but I’m glad at least that they exist.

The Pomp and Circumstance Marches - all six - are heard in the arrangements made by David Owen Norris. Pre-established transcriptions of most of them - obviously not the new Sixth - exist but Owen Norris’s work sounds very authentic and realistic, even pianistic. The Sixth is his work by the way, not that of Anthony Payne, who has also worked on it and to rather more extensive effect. Owen Norris has confined himself to rather more in the way of elasticised sketchwork and at three minutes in length - the other Marches are twice that - it sounds rather perfunctory. Elsewhere he plays the First’s central panel with sensitivity and a certain, welcome understatement, but his playing is full of clarity. The C minor is dispatched with panache and brio but it’s the Fourth, most people’s favourite, I suppose, that works best. The sonorous rolled chords before the great tune are a tonic. In the C major Owen Norris brings out the quirkiness of the writing, its caprice and wit as well as its grand panoply.

Whilst this is diverting, or disappointing in the case of No.6 - about which I’m dubious to say the least - Falstaff is the real meat in the programme. In another Karg-Elert arrangement we find the angularity of the writing, its off-kilter quality, is arresting and disconcerting. In a formally difficult and complex programmatic work such as this a piano arrangement serves a valued function, though so masterly is Elgar’s orchestration that Karg-Elert’s work can only serve as a kind of reduced rapprochement with the real thing. The visionary orchestral writing is necessarily rendered mute, and it’s more as a systemic analysis that we listen to the results of an arrangement such as this. This is a dilemma that Owen Norris locates in his notes to this release, fastening on a comment made by Christa Landon in another context regarding the ‘essential musical substance of a masterpiece.’

If the ‘musical substance’ appeals, then this skeletal reduction will serve well. It’s certainly splendidly played and conveyed.

Jonathan Woolf  


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