Piano Quintet in a minor, Op.84
Edward Elgar (1857-1934), one of England’s best known composers, needs little introduction. He is generally known for his large scale works such as the Enigma Variations, the Dream of Gerontius, Pomp and Circumstance, and his violin and cello concertos. But few people realize that he wrote some first rate chamber music, including a Piano Quintet which dates from 1919.
The work is in three movements. The first is dark, arresting and enigmatic with several recurring components, including two mysterious themes, a driving march and a ghostly dance. The middle movement can be considered the quintet’s center of gravity. It us based on a long, slow and spacious melody first presented by the viola, it is tender, nostalgic and elegiac. However, slowly it evolves through the use of chromaticism, creating an eerie suspense and then rising to a great dramatic climax. One critic commented upon hearing the movement that it brings to mind the delicacy and finesse of the French, the longing of the Viennese, and the “woody, autumnal” grace of the English. The finale is in a lighter vein, sparkling and dance-like. However, it is not without its darker moments which threaten proceedings, but in the end the music of good spirits triumph. The same critic thought he heard touches of American jazz.
This is a work of the first order which deserves to take its place in the front ranks of the repertoire. It should be of interest to both professionals and amateurs.