Athena Ensemble

Elgar: Complete Works for Wind Quintet

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For the Elgar aficionado who thinks he/she has everything, here's something he/she probably doesn't have -- Elgar's complete music for wind quintet. There are three excellent reasons for these works omission from most Elgar libraries. They are all youthful works written when the composer was in his twenties. They are all uncharacteristic works written before the composer had found his own voice. They are all not especially memorable works whose all too obvious debt to Mozart's wind quintets does little to enhance their appeal. That said, however, these still quite entertaining works with delightful if forgettable melodies, charming if undistinguished harmonies, and enchanting if unremarkable forms. Indeed, the single most notable fact about Elgar's wind quintet music is that he scored them not for the standard flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn combination but rather for two flutes, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon because no horn player was available. But while this change does give the works lighter colors and clearer textures, it does nothing to improve the music itself. The playing of the English Athena Ensemble is uniformly first class with the suave interplay of flutists Richard McNicol and Sebastian Bell being particularly striking. But even the hardiest Elgar aficionados may find two discs of youthful, uncharacteristic wind music too much for one sitting, and they are advised to take it one piece at a time, perhaps interspersed with some of the composer's late chamber music for strings. Chandos' 1978 digitally remastered sound is cool and clear, but also shallow and hard.

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