Elgar is associated in the minds of so many either with a kind of imperialist, Edwardian patriotism or a with sickly sentimentality. This makes it all the more important to hear the other, richer facets of his musical personality. In the E minor quartet there is a sparseness that is refreshing and more 'modern'.
With it's stark rising and falling first-movement theme it is as if he is repeatedly asking and answering questions. It's perhaps worth remembering that the quartet was completed after the country had endured all the traumas of the Great War. Gone the cocky, gung-ho certainties - instead a more poignant and reflective mood pervades.
Overall the journey of this quartet is from doubts, through the regained peace and serenity of the Adagio into its final, rediscovered confidence; not the clichéd swagger of empire, but the conviction that there is still a future to be embraced.
Elgar begins his A minor quintet almost tentatively, with a four note piano motif, and goes on to construct an almost symphonic development of it. Peter Donohoe plays with insight, clarity and passion, as do the Maggini String Quartet.
The work has a fullness and orchestral quality that contrasts with the sparseness of the E minor quartet. Indeed it expands over a longer time and on a larger artistic canvas. This is beautiful music and warmly played; music conceived on a much larger scale. Throughout it feels more like a piano concerto than an enlarged quartet. The work builds to a huge, joyful celebration that fairly romps to its conclusion. I loved it, and will play this recording many times.
People who dismiss Elgar as an anachronistic imperialist need to listen to this music. Well done, Naxos for bringing us this C.D., well played and recorded, at such a reasonable price. The audience hearing the first performance of both these works at the Wigmore Hall in May 1919 had a treat. With this recording so will you.