The Strad Issue: October 2016
Description: Elgar amplified in persuasive manner by Donald Fraser
Musicians: English Symphony Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra/Kenneth Woods; Rodolfus Choir
Catalogue number: AVIE AV 2362
Although Donald Fraser doesn’t quite explain why he has made these arrangements, he certainly knows how to inhabit the Elgarian sound world, and these pieces are both rather wonderful. He gives his starting point for the Piano Quintet: a recording by the Maggini Quartet and Peter Donohoe ‘had a sense of “orchestra† in the way it was performed’.
It is indeed ‘Elgary’. The strings are lush in a way a quartet can never be, and a wealth of detail emerges from the orchestrated piano writing. With brass and percussion in full voice it is quite a different piece. It doesn’t have the intimacy of the original – or its vulnerability – but it gains in grandeur and majesty.
The opening of the slow movement is sonorous and builds to a frightening climax, with busy trumpets and timpani. There is a dash of Elgarian vulgarity in the last movement, with cymbals crashing away, but it all sounds splendid in the hands of the English Symphony Orchestra under Kenneth Woods.
The Sea Pictures are arranged for string orchestra, quartet and choir, with idiomatic choral writing and sumptuous strings. The ECO’s playing is rich, with wonderful depth of sound. The recording of both works is warm and clear.