Rarely, rarely comest thou spirit of delight!
The Sufi teaches us that the music is the first thing that changes. When you have ordinary times you get ordinary music, and everything follows the ordinary music. When you have a creative time, that's when you have the powerful, creative music, not just here but all over the world. But when the music changes, when you get the junk and things are copied, you get an ordinary society.That parable comes from the autobiography of African American jazz pianist Randy Weston, and perusing the record company release schedules simply confirms that we live in very ordinary times. But there are notable exceptions, and one is the release this month of Donald Fraser's orchestration of Elgar's Piano Quintet with the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Woods. Randy Weston tells how "when you have a creative time, that's when you have the powerful, creative music". The Piano Quintet was composed in the last year of the First World War, a terrible time that, perversely, inspired powerful, creative music. Speaking of the incomplete sketches for his Third Symphony, Elgar famously told W.H. Reed ""Don't let them tinker with it, Billy - burn it!"; which did not stop Anthony Payne realising the Elgar/Payne Third Symphony. But orchestrations and Elgar are less contentious: last year I enthused about the CD of David Matthews orchestration of Elgar's String Quartet with Ben Palmer conducting the Orchestra of St Paul's, and the composer himself transcribed Bach, Handel, Chopin and Parry. Donald Fraser's orchestration of Elgar's Piano Quintet is released on Avie; so once again it is an independent label bringing that rare spirit of delight to the release schedules. Or, to put it another way, I am buying the Elgar disc, but passing on Deutsche Grammophon's new disc of Gustavo Dudamel's score for the Simón Bolívar biopic The Liberator.
Elgar described his Second Symphony as 'the passionate pilgrimage of a soul', and the score is headed by a quotation from a poem by Shelley: "Rarely, rarely comest thou spirit of delight!" No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.