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Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84 (1918) [36:02]
Anthony PAYNE (b. 1936)
Piano Quartet (2015) [17:01]
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Phantasy Quintet for bass clarinet and strings, Op. 93 (1932-36) [13:46]
Josef HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
Ballade for bass clarinet and piano (1908? publ. 1950) [6:42]
Ronald Woodley (clarinet)
John Thwaites (violin)
Primrose Piano Quartet
rec. 2015, Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, UK
MERIDIAN CDE84640 [73:31]

This is my introduction to the Primrose Piano Quartet, formed in 2004. They take their name from the Scottish viola player William Primrose. I was amazed by the eclectic discography they have built up over the years on the Meridian label. This release shows some imaginative programming: a popular chamber work, complemented by three enticing rarities.

The years 1917-1918 saw Elgar and his wife comfortably ensconced in a thatched cottage called Brinkwells, just north of Fittleworth, Sussex. Here the composer found solace and peace in a rural setting that provided him with a muse. The result was a violin sonata, a string quartet, and a piano quintet. The Quintet is unashamedly late-romantic. The muscular yet wistful and, at times, ghostly introspective outer movements surround the emotional heart of the work, the noble Adagio, performed here eloquently yet restrained. The finale gets big-boned and assertive reading. The Primrose Quartet and pianist John Thwaites capture the essence of this marvellous score in an assured and convincing performance.

Anthony Payne’s Piano Quartet of 2015 was commissioned by the Primrose Quartet. It is cast in one continuous movement. The work, which the composer describes as ‘post tonal’, undergoes a continuous metamorphosis as it runs its course. Moments of insistence alternate with periods of lyrical composure. For me, it is a cauldron of spicy, astringent dissonance, immensely appealing.

The unique combination of bass clarinet and string quartet works well in York Bowen’s 1932 alluring Phantasy Quintet in a single-movement, rhapsodic and free-arching form. The whole thing flows seamlessly; it begins in subdued fashion, becomes more animated and spirited midway, and ends in a state of composure. Ronald Woodley contours the ebb and flow of this lyrically beguiling work with an instinctive sense of line. Bowen’s imagination and resourcefulness can only be admired.

A gentle, wistful and nostalgic morsel: this aptly describes Josef Holbrooke’s Ballade for bass clarinet and piano. It seems that the composer had a strong liking for the clarinet and incorporated it into several of his chamber works. The Ballade is receiving its first recording. Woodley and Thwaites bring out all the tenderness and longing in their captivating reading.

All told, this disc has given me no end of pleasure. The Elgar is a work I love. I was already familiar with the Bowen (review). As for the Payne and Holbrook, I am very pleased to make their acquaintance.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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