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ELGAR IN SUSSEX
Felicity Lott - Joseph Middleton - Gould Piano Trio - Schubert Ensemble

 

 

Artist(s):
Dame Felicity Lott, soprano
Joseph Middleton, piano
Gould Piano Trio,
The Schubert Ensemble,

Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84
Schubert Ensemble

Seven Lieder
Felicity Lott (soprano) & Joseph Middleton (piano)

Three Movements for Piano Trio
Gould Piano Trio

Escaping London towards the end of the Great War, Elgar found a haven and inspiration in the countryside of Sussex. On this disc, musicians associated with Champs Hill - a short distance away from Elgar�s retreat at �Brinkwells� - celebrate the period which became one of the happiest times of Elgar�s life.

The Schubert Ensemble perform Elgar�s Piano Quintet in A Minor. This elegiac Quintet with its substantial slow movement is a record of his time in Sussex. Infused with the atmosphere of the surrounding countryside, it - while of its time - transcends the war.

Despite Elgar�s declaration that he was �not a song writer�, a number of his songs stand comparison with the very best of the English song repertoire. Dame Felicity Lott, accompanied by Joseph Middleton, sings a variety of Elgar�s most noted songs. Included in this selection of seven songs are Pleading and Is She not Passing Fair?, the texts for both of which contain a mixture of the nostalgia and whimsy which attracted Elgar in the first place, and inspired his melodies which linger in the mind.

In 2007, the composer Paul Adrian Rooke was commissioned to complete Elgar�s unfinished Three Movements for Piano Trio, newly recorded here by the Gould Piano Trio. Elgar left the first of these three Movements in fragmentary form, and unfortunately little is known of its origin. The second Movement is a Minuet and Trio, and was written by Elgar for a private performance with his friend Charles Buck and Buck�s mother while staying at their home in Settle, Yorkshire. The third Movement, The March for the Grafton family, is a version for piano trio of Elgar�s Empire March of 1924. While not written as a set, they can be effective, played consecutively.


 

 


WHEN ELGAR LIVED IN BRINKWELLS

Two miles uphill from the village of Fittleworth overlooking the Arun Valley is the small cottage of Brinkwells. There, as the Great War staggered to its close, Elgar composed or worked on the four last great works of his creative life: three chamber works (Violin Sonata, String Quartet and Piano Quintet) and the Cello Concerto. The prospect of the long miserable war ending and the joy of living in the country proved a powerful stimulant to Elgar�s inspiration, despite the primitive facilities in his temporary home. Champs Hill, near to Fittleworth and where these recordings were made, with its views of Amberley Wild Brooks is as much part of this �Elgar country� as Brinkwells.

Worcestershire, the Malvern Hills, the River Severn � �that sweet borderland I call home� � these are the images we have of Elgar country. But it is in Sussex, only sixty miles south of London, which nurtured the composer�s last great creative period, and the music of the Quintet is rooted in the county where it was largely composed. The composer�s time in Sussex became one of the happiest of his life and for the time Elgar had access to the cottage he travelled there as often as he could, even leaving London for Sussex on the morning of the armistice in November 1918.

In 1912 the Elgars left Hereford and moved to a large house in Hampstead. Five years later, Lady Alice Elgar, recognising her husband�s need to escape from wartime London, eventually found Brinkwells in early May 1917 and over the next four years the Elgars took a series of leases on the cottage. They stayed there for the first time between 24 May and 4 June and for Elgar it was love at first sight: �It is divine: simple thatched cottage and a studio with wonderful view.� He spent more than half of the following year there: from May to October and from November to just after Christmas 1918. Following the death of Alice Elgar in April 1920, the ageing composer continued to stay at Brinkwells until he was no longer able to rent the cottage. This area of Sussex has many important musical associations but none are as significant as those which are linked to Brinkwells in 1918.

Brinkwells, 1933 Andrew Neill

PIANO QUINTET IN A MINOR, OP.84

Elgar�s Quintet is a record of his time in Sussex; the music embedded in the atmosphere which surrounded Brinkwells and which infuses the first movement in particular. Nevertheless the Quintet remains a universal work with a slow movement worthy to stand with those of the symphonies and concertos. Although of its time, the Quintet transcends the war and the sound of guns in France which could be heard at Brinkwells on a southerly wind.

In 1918 it was a Quartet (Op.83) that Elgar began first, following a tonsillectomy in London in March and, as spring took hold, the Elgars settled back into Sussex life. Elgar�s convalescence was aided by summer weather and his love of country pursuits for, as he said: �[I] fiddled, fished and fooled.� A piano was transported to the cottage in August and this, together with news that the German army was being driven eastwards on the Western Front, stimulated Elgar to composition once more and he started his Violin Sonata (Op.82), which was virtually complete by mid- September when he began composing the Quintet. Alice Elgar detected something different in the music: �wonderful, weird beginning...�. A few days later she wrote: �The Sinister trees & their strange dance in it � Then a wail for their sin � wonderful.� With the approach of autumn Elgar turned back to the Quartet but he was drawn again to the Quintet before completing the Quartet just in time for Christmas. By mid-February 1919, back in London, the Quintet was complete and it was given its first (private) performance with the Quartet on 26 April before all three works were performed in public at the Wigmore Hall on 21 May. Elgar dedicated the Quintet to the critic Ernest Newman to whom he wrote about the first movement: �It is strange music I think & I like it � but � it is ghostly stuff.�

Whilst living at Brinkwells the Elgars had explored the surrounding countryside, including Flexham Park and the village of Bedham. One visitor to Brinkwells was their friend Algernon Blackwood, the author of the novel A Prisoner in Fairyland. As

The Starlight Express it was adapted as a children�s Christmas play for which Elgar composed the music in 1915. Blackwood was attracted to the trees in Flexham Park
and it may well have been Blackwood who suggested the idea that a group of Spanish monks had been struck dead for committing �impious rites� and were thus preserved in wood for posterity. The violinist W H Reed remembered the �gnarled and twisted branches stretching out in an eerie manner as if beckoning one to come nearer�.

The Quintet begins serioso and quietly (pp), the world of plainchant not that distant, before giving way to a brief march-like Allegro. It is the second subject which suggests a Spanish musical idiom (the accompaniment reminiscent of a guitar). The extended development uses the resources of the players to the full and the movement ends by recalling the opening phrases. Beneath the final bar Elgar inscribed Bedham 1918.

George Bernard Shaw instinctively understood the Adagio when he wrote: �A fine slow movement is a matter of course with you � nobody else has really done it since Beethoven � at least the others have never been able to take me in. Intermezzos and romances at best, never a genuine adagio.� The viola leads the players in Elgar�s memorable E flat theme spread over forty-two bars before the second subject takes the material through various key changes to the development.

Noble and uplifting, the theme returns as if a thanksgiving for peace. The finale�s slow, wistful introduction leads into a vigorous Allegro played by the strings in unison. The piano announces the second subject before the development recalls music from the first movement. We are not haunted for long by the mysteries of strange woods as sunlight returns with the opening theme of the movement. The second subject takes the movement to its end, the music happily breaking free of wartime and the uncertainties of peace. Elgar signed off the Quintet Brinkwells 1918, thus ensuring the immortality of another cottage in the land and county he honoured and loved.


Andrew Neill

SEVEN SONGS

Elgar once declared that he was �not a song writer� and although this is evidently not true, his song writing is perhaps the least regarded part of his art. All the same a number of Elgar�s songs can stand comparison with the best of English song and many others touch the listener through a phrase or modulation that seems, on reflection, �Elgarian�. Many of his songs were composed before he reached his maturity as a composer (1908�1913) and most obviously in this selection the songs Pleading and Is She Not Passing Fair? contain that mixture of nostalgia and whimsy which initially attracted Elgar and inspired memorable melodies that stay in the mind. The Shepherd�s Song (Op.16 No.1) by Barry Pain (1864�1928) was composed by Elgar in 1892 and is a pastoral setting that is at times energetic but that quickly changes mood to reflect the joy of summer. The shepherd, perhaps surprisingly, takes a cooling swim and considers an alternative life. Elgar reflects on all this as these vigorous sentiments give way to the reflective close.

In Pleading (Op.48) from 1908 by the travel writer Arthur L Salmon (1865�?), Elgar sets a poem of regret and atavism, sentiments with which he was more than familiar. Depressed after completing his first Symphony, Elgar turned to a book of poems which the author had sent him. This song is dedicated to the singer Lady Maud Warrender. Like to a Damask Rose (1892) is a setting of the Jacobean poet Simon Wastell. It is an emotionally varied reflection on life�s short span and Elgar�s urgent opening is quickly overtaken by the need to reflect the changes in mood in the poetry. Despite the bleak finality of the sentiment the song ends grandiloquently. Is She Not Passing Fair? by Charles, Duke of Orléans (1394�1465) is a public statement of love which Elgar set to a memorable melody in 1886. Here he finds in music the sense of regret that infuses the writing of the poet, a prisoner in England for twenty-four years. Speak, Music (Op.42 No.2) from 1901 is the setting of a poem by the author of Land of Hope and Glory, Arthur C Benson (1862�1925). Elgar�s relaxed music embraces a charming setting of words which go some way to explain the importance of his art:
�Soar, voice, soar, heavenwards, and pray for me.�

Rondel (Op.16 No.3) from 1894 is a translation by Longfellow of a poem by Froissart from the age of chivalry. Elgar�s flowing accompaniment (written before he set the words) works well and leads to a strong ending. Queen Mary�s Song is a setting of Tennyson from the poet�s play Mary Tudor of 1875. It is dated 1 July 1889 and was composed in London where the Elgars settled after their marriage. To a lute-like accompaniment the Queen reflects on her lost love (King Philip of Spain) and the loss of Calais. The song is largely in the minor key, but the Queen�s misery is prevented from overwhelming the listener by Elgar�s forward-moving pulse and the change to the major key for the final bars.

Andrew Neill

THREE MOVEMENTS FOR PIANOFORTE TRIO
from a note by John Norris


In 2007 the composer Paul Adrian Rooke was commissioned to complete the three piano trio movements recorded here. The March for the Grafton Family was a version of the Empire March of 1924, and the 1882 trio movement was written by Elgar for a private performance with his friend Charles Buck and Buck�s mother while staying at their home in Settle, Yorkshire. Elgar returned to the work in 1915 and resurrected the movement�s trio as the salon piece, Rosemary. Of the origins of the other trio movement, nothing is known. It survived as a single-page MS in the British Library, bearing two dates: 10 February 1886 and, against a deleted stave, 21 September 1920. Michael Kennedy, in his Portrait of Elgar, notes the work as having been �recopied� by Elgar in 1920, therefore suggesting another immature work. One hearing dispelled such a notion and, whatever its gestation, the work contains all the fingerprints of a much later piece. We now presume Elgar was (re)writing it as a companion to the three completed chamber works of 1918�19 but that, while his creativity remained strong, Alice Elgar�s death earlier in 1920 had removed the motivation to progress the work. Thanks to Paul Adrian Rooke, we can now glimpse what might have been and only regret that Elgar was not able to see the work through to completion.

Movement I

Elgar left the first of these three movements in a fragmentary form. The opening Lento is sketchy: the first eight bars being in ink, the next six in pencil. The main part of the movement has no tempo indication. The first 24 bars are written out almost fully but then gaps begin to appear and much of the transition and second theme has only a single line of material and almost no bars in which all three instruments are catered for (there are many blank bars throughout the three instruments). After 84 bars the sketch comes to an abrupt stop. The slow introduction, faster main section with a first theme in D minor, transition to the relative key and a second theme in F major persuaded me that this was a sketch for a Sonata-allegro with slow introduction. I had to decide about the overall structure and determined that I would complete what was obviously Elgar�s exposition, but that I would not finish the movement as a whole sonata form � only what was Elgar�s exposition, after which I have placed repeat marks. The first-time bar enables the music to return from F major to the tonic key, D minor; the second-time bar concludes in F major.

Movement II

The manuscript (dated 1882) is a Minuet and Trio. The �Trio� section is signed and dated �Edward Wm Elgar / Giggleswick / Settle / Yks. / Septr. 4 1882�. Elgar had first met Dr Charles Buck at a concert given in Worcester that year to entertain the members of a convention of the British Medical Association. It proved to be the start of a life-long friendship. Invited to stay at Buck�s home in Settle, Elgar took sketches for a trio section which he had penned the previous year and expanded it, adding a minuet section to form an essentially complete movement for piano trio. Buck was a competent amateur cellist, his mother played the piano and Elgar, of course, played the violin. As presented here, it is a conventionally structured Minuet and Trio with repeats. Some editorial alterations were needed, particularly with regard to rhythms; some additional bowing and articulation was also required.


Movement III

March for the Grafton Family is a version for piano trio of Elgar�s Empire March. The Grafton family concerned were Elgar�s �favourite� sister, Susannah Mary (known as �Pollie�), her husband, Will, and their three daughters and two sons. The sketches for the movement are held at The Elgar Birthplace Museum and consist of violin and �cello parts in Elgar�s hand. These two parts are written out neatly, with few corrections but a �pianoforte� part is less neat, with many corrections and additions, almost certainly a piano reduction-sketch of the Empire March. Some of the chords are unplayable by a pianist and there are indications of instrumentation � �organ and �Bells�. It also has ten bars more than the violin and �cello parts. Reconstituting the march was, therefore, a simple matter with the two string parts, but the layout of the piano part had to be performable and the extra bars excised. The latter was not a simple matter, however, as the intrusive bars were not consecutive but spread about the last two pages or so.

The three movements are not, of course, part of one trio but I would suggest that they can be played as such, in which case there is the slow introduction and exposition of a conventional first movement Sonata-allegro; then follows, conventionally enough, a Minuet and Trio; finally comes, not without precedent, a March. The key relationships may raise a few conventional eyebrows, but are not outlandish: D minor, G major and B flat major.

Paul Adrian Rooke



   
   

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