This is the first in a weekly look at an indisputably great piece of music not frequently heard in concert. We’re starting with the Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, completed by Edward Elgar in January 1919.
The Nash Ensemble performed this work on Thursday night at Koerner Hall. Following the performance, I heard several people say how much they enjoyed this piece, which they’d never heard before.
I heard the same thing when the Amici Chamber Ensemble performed it at the Glenn Gould Studio this past winter.
This is a big, intense work in three movements. Elgar, a master theme-smith, interveaves a series of musical ideas which come together near the end, helping provide a satisfying sense of closure. Just about every emotion one can think of appears at some point in the music, which has much more to do with the late-19th century than it does with the aftermath of World War I.
This is music that was old even as the ink was drying on the page.
Elgar, who was in his early 60s and not in the best of spirits, rented a cottage in the country in the summer of 1918. The months he and his wife Alice spent there were restorative — and very productive. He wrote his Violin Sonata, Piano Quartet and the bulk of the Piano Quintet there (the last fruit of this creative burst before the illness and 1920 death of Elgar beloved spouse was the Cello Sonata).
The Piano Quintet had its premiere at Wigmore Hall in London alongside the Quartet in May, 1919.
My personal reference recording of the Piano Quintet was made 12 years ago at Snape Maltings (site of the Aldeburgh Festival) by England’s Sorrel Quartet and pianist Ian Brown (who performed the piece with the Nash Ensemble in Toronto). It is Chandos album no. 9894:
You can find out much more about the work and Edward Elgar here.