FringeReview UK 2019
The Brighton Chamber Ensemble – Stephen Carroll-Turner, Rachel Ellis, Alexandra Dalton, Ros Hanson-Laurent, Siriol Hugh-Jones perform Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor, Op 84.
This was packed. The Brighton Chamber Ensemble – Pianist Stephen Carroll-Turner, Rachel Ellis and Alexandra Dalton (violins), Ros Hanson-Laurent (viola), Siriol Hugh-Jones (cello) performed Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor, Op 84 – his last work before the valedictory Cello Concerto. The calibre for those who know this line-up – and many did, people were sadly turned away – spoke for itself.
There was though a piquant reflection from Carroll-Turner. Their last concert here as an ensemble was to perform Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The date was June 23rd 2016. Given parliament’s divigations today it was felt Elgar’s querulous autumnal battlefield-haunted work completed in early 1919 answered a new national weariness as it passes 100. Not on the same scale, though as Carroll-Turner said, he hopes the ensemble doesn’t keep proving prophetic.
Elgar’s work is famous too for is ghosted slow movement. The work opens in shadows too, the Moderato-Allegro answering the piano’s plainsong chords with limping tied phrases, stabbing and muttering like an uncertain pulse. This lowly monolithic piece only stutters into Allegro through a café waltz tune that seems straight out of a war-haunted ballroom. Shadowings and developments as well as sudden plangent accelerations are turbulent, passionately querulous. There’s a review of the material and a fugato-like pile-up started by the cello.
The Adagio’s even more shadowy, as you’d expect. It starts with a viola melody giving way to recitative-lie interruptions from the cello and a long-limbed tune. The legend of the Armada Spanish monks turned by lightning into gnarled trees swirls slowly into and out of focus, as the pulse slows still further. It’s a halting tenebrous extension of the first movement’s mood, but refracted through intense melancholy.
The third movement revisits the first’s material, reprising them almost phrase-for-phrase with a spectral air of the revenant. It rises to a more forceful, momentarily breezy tune though marked ‘with dignity’. It breaks up with a piano-led galumphing syncopation into a piano-strings exchange of all the preceding material in fragments. Then we get the chorale emerge, then the breezy tune and galumphing piano syncopation are back, and a kind of provisional, gaunt blaze of affirmation.
The unanimity and richness of the strings is evocative and truly Elgarian – there’s a layering and strength in this ensemble that makes you lean back and revel in their inner voices. Carroll-Turner’s way with the piano part is declamatory where needed to cut through the texture, but also shaded, sensitive and holding back. Everything here projected as well as the Chapel’s acoustics allow – it’s a big work but there’s enough space for it to breathe. A terrific performance, and as the poet Geoffrey hill put it, a sad and angry consolation.