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Gramophone The Archive

March 2005 - page      
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SESSION REPORT NEW FROM ELGAR WE GET A SNEAK PREVIEW OF A 'NEW' PIANO WORK BY THE MASTER Now that Elgar's Third Symphony is firmly accepted in Anthony Payne's realisation, it is good that another major Elgar work has been imaginatively realised from the composer's sketches. For this re-creation of Elgar's Piano Concerto, the composer Robert Walker has taken material not only from sketches deposited in the British Museum, but also from two of the piano improvisations that Elgar recorded for HMV in 1929. Walker called his original draft simply 'Fragments of Elgar', reflecting the amount of original work he had to do in drawing the sections together. That was in 1997, but now after a thorough revision, this three-movement work lasting almost 40 minutes has been recorded by David Owen-Norris with the BBC Concert Orchestra under David Lloyd-Jones.
Sponsored by Dutton Laboratories in conjunction with BBC Radio 3, the sessions took place in the Elgarian venue of EMI's Abbey Road Studios, with Michael Ponder as recording producer assisted by Fiona
Shelmerdine of Radio 3. What was impressive from the start was the virtuosity of Owen Norris in the often-elaborate piano figuration in each movement. The pianist has already given two live performances of the concerto, one with the Dartington Festival Orchestra in the UK and one in Canada with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
After 20 minutes of rehearsal, the first take revealed a broadly lyrical first theme, marked Nobilmente, with ripely resonant writing for violas and cellos in a flowing 6/4. One was reminded that the Elgar Cello Concerto opens in a similarly rocking metre. Though most of the surviving sketches date from 1911-12, others date from as early 1904 and periodically over the years into the 1920s Elgar went back to the idea of a Piano Concerto, adding material.
For the second theme, the music develops into a duple-time Moderato, and later, as a complete contrast, into a grand Maestoso, providing the central section of the movement. Listening to the playback, pianist and conductor agreed that in places of the first movement — by far the longest of the three — the piano was too prominent, and Owen Norris sharply commented that some of the passagework is 'just knitting'.
The central Poco Andante con rubato, is drawn from the fourth of the Elgar improvisations, with additions from a short score that
Dutton's Elgar CD will be reviewed next month
Elgar gave to the pianist, Harriet Cohen. This was the movement which many years ago Percy Young similarly realised (recorded in Munich in 2000 by Margaret Fingerhut for the Classico label), but Walker provides what he feels is more characteristic Elgarian orchestration and reconstructs the composer's middle section.
The third movement, like the first, starts with an idea that Elgar orchestrated complete, leading to a rondo with a main theme based on the third of Elgar's improvisations: the work ends in its key of G major.
The finished disc will have a generous coupling of other rare Elgar works, including three choral pieces with the BBC Singers, 'So many Princesses' (orchestrated by Anthony Payne) from Queen Alexandra's Memorial Ode, 'The Immortal Legions' from The Pageant of Empire and Spanish Serenade (Stars of the Summer Night). Other pieces include Haydn Wood's orchestrations of four of Elgar's songs, notably the haunting Shepherd's Song and Like to the Damask Rose, as well as an Elegy in Memory of Edward Elgar written by Anthony Collins, using a theme from the sketches for the Third Symphony.
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Edward Greenfield

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