English Late Romantic composer Sir Edward William Elgar [1857–1934] wrote only one string quartet, in 1918. It is in three movements.
The work opens with scything violins and great feeling. A powerful passage unfolds with fine melodies and deep support from the cello. Harmonised lines abound until the mood turns thoughtful. This peaceful passage gradually increases in intensity until the violins positively resonate with energy. A pause brings about another thoughtful section, but it too, has an underlying feeling of intensity. Now breaking free, the violins become rhapsodic and generate an undercurrent of momentum in an emotionally charged phase. Strong, harmonised lines gradually diminish and lead to a gentler, melodic mood. The violin interplay is powerful, before the music moves into another introspective moment. A prominent cello part supports the violins as they rise to the occasion. Tonally, the violins have a rich sound and their further harmonised lines slowly decrease in intensity to finish.
The next movement is pastoral, gentle even, as the ensemble present a wonderfully melodic mood. This is finely crafted British writing. The rich sonority of the ensemble is stunning as they create numerous melodic lines. A slight ensemble pulse begins to emerge, but it too is gentle. Overlapping violin lines are most lyrical and the feeling moves into a minimal section for two violins, which doesn’t last. Now a violin strikes out with a forceful melody and carries the ensemble along with it until this is eventually tempered and we have another subtle, pastoral moment. A prolonged peaceful passage unfolds and the beauty is refined. One violin reaches skyward, then descends to rejoin the other; both move into a very subtle musical space which leads to a most satisfying conclusion.
The finale opens with strong violins, many flourishes and some rhythmic punctuation. The music becomes energised and swirling violins contribute evocative, harmonised lines. This is followed by a sensitive section where the violins express gently until they move into a tempo and push hard, while all the time retaining the beauty, albeit powerfully. The cello presents some sonorous lines and the violins respond in kind. Now the cello reaches out and for a time, leads the violins. A rhythmic violin, reminiscent of the first-movement opening, leads to a return of the energised, harmonised flourishes. Some racing virtuoso lines lead to a fine conclusion.
This is music that keeps you wondering will the composer ever run out of melodic ideas; he doesn’t. The playing on this performance by the Brodsky Quartet is superb; they really present this music in a most favourable light.
The review CD by the Brodskys comes paired with the one string quartet of Frederick Delius. I reviewed this only two months ago and already it has been assigned to the ‘available as new and used’ category on Amazon US and UK. The UK site has it as an MP3 download, although sixty-six other versions of the work can be found there, with many different pairings.
Listenability: A Late Romantic masterpiece.