Ashley Wass

Elgar: Piano Music

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It's more than possible that even the most devoted Elgar aficionado might not know that the late Romantic English master of the symphony and the oratorio also wrote piano music. At first, Elgar, like his contemporaries Sibelius and Strauss, seems to be a composer whose invention is invariably associated with the specific sound of the modern symphony orchestra, and that shorn of its coat of many orchestral colors, it would appear at best thin and threadbare. But as this disc of Elgar's piano music performed by the able young English pianist Ashley Wass proves, this was not at all the case. Indeed, while some of the works here are slighter salon pieces originally written for the instrument, the composer's transcriptions of Dream Children and the Enigma Variations sound nearly as magnificent played on the keyboard as by a full orchestra. The intimate melodies of Dream Children make wonderfully lyrical pieces à la Grieg and the Variations' character studies come off beautifully when reduced to their musical essence. And while it is true that the Variations' Finale's massive sonorities sound less impressive as rolled chords and tremolos, the sonorous depths of the famous Nimrod variation sound just as profound when played on the piano. Of course, Elgar's seductive salon pieces like May Song and Carissima can hardly match his mighty Nimrod, but Wass makes as persuasive a case as possible for their occasional hearing by dedicated fans of the composer. Naxos' sound is honest and straightforward.

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