Q&A with Dene Olding, Goldner String Quartet

Rebecca Franks of BBC Music Magazine talks with the leader of the Goldner String Quartet about making sense of Elgar’s late works

Why did you decide to record these two chamber masterpieces by Elgar?
I’m of the generation of Australians that remember Australia when it was a more Anglo, less cosmopolitan country than it is today. It was modelled on British society, and composers like Elgar were part of the standard concert fare. That Britishness is in my blood somehow, and I’ve always been intrigued by Elgar’s era in British music. Elgar himself wrote that his Piano Quintet and String Quartet weren’t breaking any new ground, but he didn’t mind. He was already about 60 years old and wasn’t going to change style.

It might be conservative, but it’s also elusive music. How did you go about crafting your interpretations?
We found the Quartet the most difficult to make sense of. It’s a little bit angular; in the first movement in particular, it’s difficult to find a good tempo that we can keep returning to with the natural rubato. I heard a recording of Elgar’s piano playing – full of natural, charming rubato – which influenced me, as did playing a lot of his orchestral works in my role as concert master for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. We’ve recorded all the Elgar orchestral pieces recently with Vladimir Ashkenazy. I always hear his orchestral thinking in his works: it’s as if the Quartet is straining to break out of its four players and into an orchestral colour. It also helps to have a feeling for – how should I put it? – that nobility and stiff upper lip associated with Edwardian England.

The Goldner Quartet has often collaborated with pianist Piers Lane. Can you tell me about working with him?
I grew up in the same city as Piers, in Brisbane. I knew him from his teenage years, and later we kept on crossing paths. But it wasn’t until I went to his flat in London once to sightread some sonatas that we got to know each other professionally. We liked each other’s playing, and it just seemed very natural. Our first disc together for Hyperion was of Bloch Piano Quintets, which got an accolade from BBC Music Magazine, and that was the impetus for continuing. We’ve just recorded the chamber works of Hamilton Harty, a definite rarity, which will be out next year.


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