This is an odd combination: we get a string quartet, piano pieces seemingly picked at random from two separate eras of his career, and the piano quintet. I guess they wanted to give us our money’s worth or something.
String Quartet in E minor, Op. 83
The string quartet is good, but it’s hardly on the level of Bartok. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty good, but it’s not quite one of the great quartets of its era.
The problem is the piano pieces, which feel totally out of place with all of this. In and of themselves they are fine but if they had to pick piano pieces to fill up the disc, couldn’t they just have picked some contemporaneous pieces to the quartet and quintet? (I have no idea if Elgar had written any. Maybe he hadn’t. But wouldn’t this be stronger without the random piano interlude which can’t even keep a consistent tone or style?) It’s too bad, because they actually make me a little more interested in Elgar’s piano music (if there is much more of it than this) if only to just see what it is like and to see if I like it more than his orchestral music. But here they just don’t fit.
Finally, there is the quintet, which is for me the highlight of the programme. I have definitely heard part of it before; it must have been used in multiple films or something because I really recognize it. In my mind it shows a balanced and interesting side to his writing. It is everything good about both of the preceding styles of music, which is perhaps why they programmed it this way.
I still don’t like that there is solo piano music on here, but it is a fine selection of music that shows off Elgar better than most discs I have heard of his music so far.