Sir Philip Ledger - A Musician’s Legacy
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84 [35:23]
Antonin DVORAK (1841-1904) Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81 [32:36]
Sir Philip Ledger (piano)
rec. live, Matt Thomson Concert Hall, Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, 7 November 2001 (Elgar); 9 November 2001 (Dvorak)
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6220 [68:05]
The clue is in the title ‘A Musician’s Legacy’; Sir Philip Ledger was an all-round musician par excellence. Pianist, conductor, church musician, and composer, he excelled in all of these. As William Owen’s booklet notes attest ‘each influenced and strengthened the other and made him the unique musician that he was’. Born in 1937 into a musical family - grandfather a church organist, mother a singer, and father a pianist - one can see the strong influences in his young life. After early studies of the piano and organ, he went on to Cambridge to read music. It was during his under-graduate days there that he developed his life-long love of playing chamber music. He also learned the harpsichord and the art of continuo playing and developed his conducting. It was with this panoply of skills that he embarked on his first job as organist of Chelmsford Cathedral.
Ledger went on to be director of music and dean of the School of Fine Arts and Music at the University of East Anglia in 1963. It was here in Norwich, with its proximity to Aldeburgh, that he was afforded the opportunity to work with Britten, becoming an artistic director of the festival that bears the town’s name. However, in 1973 he succeeded David Willcocks as Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge. It is his tenure here for which most of us remember him. He stayed for eight years, but in 1982 academia beckoned and he moved to Scotland to become Principal of the Scottish Academy of Music. This was his last post before retiring. He died in 2012.
I have always loved the Elgar Piano Quintet ever since I first heard it in the late sixties, whilst at school. There my violin teacher lead a group of chamber players in a performance in nearby Kendal. Later, my parents bought me the LP with John Ogdon and the Allegri Quartet, a performance I still listen to and enjoy. Elgar composed the Quintet in 1918-19. Towards the end of the First World War he was in poor health, and he and his wife decided to move out of London, renting a cottage called ‘Brinkwells’ in the Sussex countryside. Here he composed three chamber works: the Violin Sonata, the String Quartet and the Piano Quintet, together with the Cello Concerto.
The Piano Quintet is a late-romantic work, following in the tradition of a long line of piano quintets by Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak and Franck. The Albernis, together with Ledger, capture the autumnal mood right from the opening bars. They manage to conjure up the dark, arresting and enigmatic atmosphere, which pervades the whole work. Ledger’s virtuosity, combined with sensitivity, are second to none. As the drama unfolds, the listener is taken on a journey of emotional experiences. The second movement begins with a solo viola melody, ravishingly played by Matthew Souter. Here, the players suitably convey the tenderness and nostalgia of the music. The third movement opens with a quotation from the first movement as if looking back and longing for times past. The allegro which follows is a tour de force with the performers ending the Quintet in a blaze of glory.
In the Dvorak Quintet, Ledger and his collaborators deliver an eloquent performance with an innate sense of style. The balance between the instruments is pleasing, and tempi are well judged. I did, however, feel that the opening cello melody could have been a little more fervent and expressive. There is excellent contrast between the melancholy and more extrovert passages in the second movement Dumka. The scherzo, which is a Bohemian Folk Dance truly sparkles with vigour, with wonderful interplay between the strings. Certainly it is a performance I would come back to.
We are treated to very clear, immediate sound that captures all the spontaneity of live music-making. Audience noise is minimal and is in no way distracting. In the booklet notes, some of his friends and colleagues share their fond memories of Ledger, with William Owen contributing a comprehensive biography. Disappointing is the absence of any discussion of the two works played, which is a glaring omission. Nevertheless, this is a very welcome release, and a worthy tribute to a great musician.
A very welcome release, and a worthy tribute to a great musician.
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