'Wood magic, so elusive and delicate,' was Lady Elgar’s description of her husband’s new composition for piano and string quartet, written in West Sussex in the summer of 1918 after a period of mental and physical collapse. One of three immortal chamber works dating from that time—the others being the string quartet and violin sonata—the Piano Quintet in A minor is at once ghostly and expansive, tender and passionate. It shows a side of Elgar, at times hesitant, intimate, only hinted at in his better known works.
The first movement also has one of Elgar’s most rhapsodic tunes, which recurs later in the piece. The Takács Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson, without excess or hysterics, plumb every emotional possibility. Geraldine Walther’s glowing viola-playing shines in the lyrical slow movement, with violins, cello and piano equal in reply to her yearning melody.
The work is paired with the Piano Quintet in F sharp minor by Amy Beach from 1907, similarly restless and poetic, with an ambitious, turbulent final movement, decidedly worth getting to know, even if Elgar is the real draw here. Not that I’m biased: the quintet was dedicated to a music critic, Ernest Newman of the Manchester Guardian, lucky man.