> Edward Elgar - Cello Concerto, Violin Concerto [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Edward ELGAR (1865-1934)
Cello Concerto (1908) [29.16] ‡
Violin Concerto (1911) [49.38] †
Enigma Variations (1905) [27.49] §
Cockaigne (1892) [14.14] ¤
‡ Julian Lloyd Webber RPO/Yehudi Menuhin
† Kyung Wha Chung (violin) LPO/Solti
§ Chicago SO/Solti
rec DDD Watford Town Hall, July 1985 ‡; Kingsway Hall, Feb 1977 †; Medinah Hall, Chicago, May 1974 §; Kingsway Hall, Feb 1976 ¤ ADD
DECCA The British Music Collection 473 085-2 [2CDs: 122.21]


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With the exception of the Cello Concerto this is an all Solti-Elgar set. Solti never got round to the Cello Concerto (but then as far as I am aware neither did Rostropovich). Solti's 1970s immersion in Elgar represented something of a Damascene experience for some of us.

His Cockaigne is rather closer to Beecham's iconoclastically sanguine performance (on Sony) than to Boult's ‘mainstream’. What saturated glories Solti would have wrung from Arthur Butterworth's Northern Cockaigne, the overture Mancunians, an event, sadly, not to be. I never got to hear Solti in In the South and he ducked out of doing the Introduction and Allegro. Another great loss.

Not entirely surprisingly it was Beecham I thought of during the Enigma as well. It was about a year ago that I wrote about the Sony Beecham-Elgar CD (Serenade, Enigma, Cockaigne). This is flighty, heartfelt, shivery, torrential, rasping, a little breathless (Solti often tested his orchestras with Porsche-tempi), balletic and regal. Solti turns the metaphorical water-cannons on Elgar and it comes up in technicolour dazzle. It does not make me want to give up looking for the Norman del Mar/RPO version but it is still a grandly pleasurable listen. Be warned that there is some treble edginess at fortissimo. The analogue tape is all but thirty years old.

The Solti version of the Violin Concerto is in the hands of Kyung Wha Chung. Her tone is steady, sweetly slender and shapely bringing out the instrument's soprano fach. Hers is a searching rapier tone - silver-steel - a Toledo blade. This is yet a further good version of a work already blessed with a host of healthy, touching and exhilarating recordings: Accardo (Collins - deleted), Bean (an old CFP LP with Charles Groves - surely in line for reissue), Oistrakh (Olympia - long gone now); Heifetz (outstanding with Sargent on Naxos), Zukerman (one of his finest recordings - Sony Essential Classics) and Sammons (unmissable for any Elgarian - Naxos). The Kingsway Hall provides its usual businesslike definition, transparency and smiling ambience.

The Julian Lloyd Webber/Menuhin is well worth hearing. As so often with the cellist the impression of spontaneity is strong. He plays with great technical command and a striking ability to transfer his concentration to the listener. There is some 'reinvention' in the invigorating little inflections and holdings back of the flow. After a heartfelt Adagio the Allegro goes with a swing and a touch of the Nielsen's orgoglioso. Recording quality is subtly lit with acres of detailing and no shortage of thumping impact.

Nothing here to gripe about. It is only the most spoilt of children who would think of asking Decca why we could not have had Solti's Falstaff instead of Enigma and his In The South as an added track.

Solti was a damned fine Elgar interpreter inclined to shake the rafters but obviously convinced that Elgar was for the world not exclusively for the supposedly milk and water sensibilities of the Brits. A bargain here for the buying.

Rob Barnett

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