Elspeth Wyllie

Another review for ‘Enigmas’

‘…fresh and different sound. A real treat.’ Jeremy Condliffe, The Chronicle

This delightful album is out to coincide with Elgar’s 160th birthday on 2nd June, and it’s a recording of solo piano and chamber works, featuring Worcester’s most famous son’s own solo piano transcription of Enigma Variations.

The Review Corner are big fans of Elgar, having lived in Malvern, not too far from his grave at Little Malvern, and sometimes tramping the hills listening to him on a Sony cassette player. (Mr Roget is also buried, interred, laid to rest and entombed in Malvern).

This recording offers a fresh and different sound to the famous work, making it both cleaner and more intimate, Nimrod still being surprisingly uplifting. We confess to finding Elgar a little dusty of late, so this CD opens him up once again to repeated listening pleasure.

The Elgar is complemented by a collection of other work by British composers, such as Edwin York Bowen’s Sonata For Flute And Piano and Kenneth Leighton’s Elegy, but all of it is, as we say, rather delightful. A real treat.

Review for ‘Enigmas’

‘Generosity of duration contends with novelty of content in this fulsome collection.’ Rob Barnett, MusicWeb


I had misgivings about hearing Enigma in a version for solo piano. This reading accounts for approaching half the playing time on the disc so there was a fair bit at stake. In fact it works wonderfully well at least until the closing EDU variation where the ‘transition’ from orchestra to keyboard at times sounds pretty stilted. The gap between an essentially percussive instrument and the undulating orchestral oratory just cannot be bridged successfully at those points. The rest, and that’s most of Enigma, works most eloquently and this deserves its own life in the concert hall. It was after all Elgar’s own handiwork, prepared contemporaneously with the full score. Each variation has its own track.

The competition comes primarily from Ashley Wass on Naxos. One other critic, writing about the Wass, points out that the piano version can be heard on at least two other versions: Anthony Goldstone (MRCD94001) playing Elgar’s Broadwood piano and Maria Garzon on ASV CDDCA1065. I have not heard the Wass or the other two but Wyllie has a firm yet sympathetically yielding grasp of this fine music and, apart from occasionally in EDU – a problem for all pianists – makes it sing without cloy or shudder.

The Leighton Elegy shines and comes across as a touching piece. It works well in the hands of Wyllie and Price.

Bowen’s lambently romantic three-movement Flute Sonata is one of a clutch of 15-20 minute sonatas in this composer’s catalogue. Its light-filled and faintly Gallic ways have attracted several recordings. This, from Claire Overbury and Elspeth Wyllie, is lovingly shaped. It proceeds on stylish toes – pearly and pointed rather than leaden.

The only music by a living British composer in this 78-minute collection is Nicholas Sackman’s six-movement ten-minute suite. It is in tuneful mode: sec, witty, atmospheric, touching and making playfully inventive use of irregular rhythms. Sackman leads us around all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. The music half reminds me of Constant Lambert. Sackman is not over-represented in the catalogue although you can catch him on Metier and NMC and end up wanting to hear more.

Edmund Rubbra’s Alabaster Sonnets I recall from an Alfreda Hodgson LP (Pearl SHE 559) but counter-tenor Mark Chambers also recorded them in the late 1990s on Deux-Elles 1012. Here I like the emphasis given to the viola. Catherine Backhouse also makes a strong impression but I could not always catch the words – fortunately they are set out in full on p.5 of the liner booklet.

The liner booklet, in English-only, is equal to the task. The music is engagingly profiled by Ms Wyllie. The Enigma friends ‘portrayed within’ are listed and each gets a short description. There are photos and brief bios of each musician.

Enigma works well and is accorded a natural voice that demands to be heard. The added works are also well worth your listening contemplation.
Rob Barnett (Music Web)

Music @ St Mary’s Balham

St Mary and St John the Divine is a wonderfully welcoming place, led by its friendly vicar, Wilma Roest.  I’m delighted to have arranged a series of monthly concerts at the church, running from June to October this year.  Admittance is free and open to all – everyone is welcome.

The concerts are held on Saturdays from 6 to 7pm. Refreshments are available beforehand (the audience are encouraged to relax with a glass of wine during the concert!) and also afterwards, when the musicians and audience can mingle.


Sat 6 June Claire Bessent (soprano) & Elspeth Wyllie

A programme of songs to celebrate the newly-restored Chancel, including music by Mozart, Purcell, Handel, Bridge, Quilter and Gershwin.


Sat 11 July Metier Ensemble

Dramatic, passionate music for flute and piano, including a sonata by York Bowen – often called the ‘English Rachmaninoff’.


Sat 15 August Catherine Backhouse (mezzo), Alexa Beattie (viola) and Elspeth Wyllie

Gorgeous music for a beautiful blend of instruments, including trios by Brahms and Loeffler, and a setting of two medieval sonnets by Rubbra.


Sat  26 September Metier Ensemble (flute, cello, piano)

Varied duos and trios, from Bach to Piazzolla.


Sat  17 October Quintabile Brass

This vibrant ensemble perform old and new music from around the world.

Experiencing live music

‘Sharing’ is a word being used a lot these days, and mainly in relation to online social media. We write articles, thoughts or messages and then we ‘share’ them. Issues then arise with ‘over-sharing’, ie. when people tell you more than you want to know, or send more information than you find relevant or interesting! The best thing about being a chamber player is sharing the experience of music-making with colleagues.  In concerts, there’s the vitally important connection between performers, and also between the performers and the audience. Sometimes audiences are unaware of how much musicians can sense their reactions and attention, and how much this contributes to the atmosphere of the concert. It’s just as critical as all the hours spent in practice and rehearsal.

Recently, the non-performing aspect of my professional life have given rise to some incredibly uplifting  moments –  pupils performing in public or passing exams,  students responding to coaching sessions and making progress, and choirs realising more of their potential.  It feels great to share in their joy and sense of accomplishment!

Uh-oh… have I ‘over-shared’?

Elgar’s piano

Today, is the anniversary of Elgar’s death. I’m sure ‘Nimrod’ is being played on many radio stations, but how about hearing it played on the gorgeous ‘square’ piano that Elgar owned at the time he wrote the piece? Pianist-friend and blogger Frances Wilson reminded me of our trip to visit the instrument last year (read her account here) and she recorded my impromptu play through some excerpts of the ‘Enigma Variations’, complete with the mumblings of other exhibition visitors in the background! Enjoy.


Musical tourism


A friend’s wedding in Austria gave me the excuse to spend a day in Vienna, the ‘City of Music’. It was the end of the concert season, pouring with rain, all the Lipizzaner horses were on holiday, and I only had a few hours, so it was a concise tour…

Nestled on the eastern side of Vienna, quite close to the airport, the Zentralfriedhof (cemetery) is enormous. Visiting the graves of composers is perhaps a dark tourist desire, but it was a really moving experience. Brahms, Beethoven, Wolff, Schubert, and several Strausses are all buried within 20 metres of each other. The hundreds of years of history between their lives and ours seemed to melt as I stood next to the graves. The gravestones are all markedly different too – the style of carving strangely reflective of the composers’ differing musical styles.

New piece for flute and piano

bernard copy
Composer Bernard Hughes has written a new piece for Metier Ensemble – a fantasy for flute and piano, based on themes from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. The commission was inspired by the popularity of a similar piece, Carmen Fantasy based on Bizet’s opera.

Bernard’s compositions have been broadcast on Radio 3 and performed at the Bath Festival and in venues such as Birmingham’s Symphony Hall and St Paul’s Cathedral.