Absolute Sound

Edward Elgar’s 1899 Enigma Variations is a much-loved staple of the orchestral repertoire, its 14 transformations of a richly suggestive theme ranging through moods tender, delicate, musing, ceremonious, and celebratory – a sort of fond farewell to all that was noble and good in the Victorian Era. Though first composed for piano, it’s seldom recorded on that instrument, and it comes as a treat to hear Elspeth Wyllie’s thoughtful and expressive rendition of the original version, which offers an intimacy and sweetness that the orchestra can’t match, while revealing harmonic nuances and textural felicities that don’t come through in the concert hall.

Wyllie’s program is filled out with chamber pieces by four later English composers, all of them working in traditional idioms. Kenneth Leighton’s Elegy for Cello and Piano is appropriately sad and lovely, York Bowen’s Flute Sonata mellifluous and light-footed, Nicholas Sackman’s Folio I postcard-brief and winsome, and Edmund Rubbra’s Two Sonnets (settings of sacred texts for soprano and piano) reverent and glowing. This is a nicely recorded and beautifully played program of often pensive music that’s perfect for a quiet, rainy autumn afternoon.

—Mark Lehman