ELGAR Piano Quintet; Violin Sonata – Nash Ensemble
Nash Ensemble members Marcia Crayford and Ian Brown give a most perceptive rendering of the Elgar Violin Sonata, the finest on disc since Chandos's 1984 Kennedy/Pettinger recording. Crayford's admirably disciplined, exquisitely shaded contribution is a constant source of pleasure; Brown is an exemplary partner, acutely responsive and passionate, yet never forcing the tone the way John Bingham sometimes does on his recent account with the Medici Quartet's first violinist, Paul Robertson (Medici-Whitehall). Whilst there's much to enjoy in the latter duo's big-boned, enthusiastic (and occasionally rough-edged) traversal, these newcomers are undoubtedly the more subtly affecting protagonists––theirs is certainly the more cogent, intuitive realization, particularly so in the bitter-sweet central ''Romance'' whose twilit musings are most poignantly attended to.
In the case of the Piano Quintet, however, competition is fiercer. Last November, Michael Jameson showered with superlatives John Bingham and the Medici Quartet's darkly intense second recording of this music for the new Medici/Whitehall label, rightly hailing it as an advance even on their magnificent earlier account for Meridian. Though far more sympathetically engineered than its predecessor, the close balance on the Medici/Whitehall release remains far from ideal—in this respect, Andrew Keener's beautifully blended Henry Wood Hall production for Hyperion easily scores over both rivals. As ever, the playing of the Nash Ensemble evinces consummate refinement and total dedication; their heart-warmingly eloquent reading communicates strongly. Both Bingham/Medici performances, it's true, have an utterly compulsive sweep and grand majesty about them. Yet the Nash Ensemble, too, have much to say about this glorious score, and no true Elgarian could fail to derive considerable satisfaction from such effortlessly idiomatic music-making.'