Elgar: Complete Works For Wind Quintet / Athena Ensemble

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This music could be called pre-Elgarian, since it was composed between 1878 and 1879, well before this late-bloomer had begun to find his distinctive voice. It was designed for a specific group of friends who joined together in an ensemble that was off kilter both in terms of its makeup (two flutes, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon) and in terms of its varying skills (the clarinetist was apparently less fluent than the flutists, while the bassoonist—the composer himself—was just beginning to master the instrument). It was penned under less-than-ideal circumstances, too: according to Jerrold Northrop Moore, cited in Noël Goodwin’s informative notes, the young church-organist composer tossed off much of this music during Sunday sermons.

All of this is apt to seem inauspicious, especially for those who don’t much care even for such “important” early works as the Bavarian Dances or for those who don’t like Elgar’s miniatures more generally. Rest assured: there may be nothing even faintly characteristic of the composer here, but the music is consistently captivating in a way that may bring the wind versions of Rossini’s String Sonatas to mind. No profundity, no sentimentality, no significant aesthetic aspirations, no formal challenges, no real attempt to engage the listener on any but the most superficial level: next to this, even the sunnier moments of the Dvo?ák Wind Serenade seem both monumental and avant-garde. But in its bursts of wit and in its unflagging and self-confident optimism, Elgar’s egregiously old-fashioned tidbits will surely brighten your brunch. These spirited performances, by the players who introduced the music to the wider public, have been staples of the Chandos catalog for years—and for good reason. If you’ve missed them in their earlier incarnations, now is a good time to make their acquaintance.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 241-33

  • UPC: 095115243329

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Sir Edward Elgar

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Athena Ensemble