Interesting that Elgar's
concerto has become a vehicle for young
violinists although of course it started
that way with the teenage Menuhin and
the elderly Elgar. That classic of the
gramophone remains its most celebrated
recording .... though certainly not
its best. One can carry received veneration
Just as with Mutter's
disc, also released this month, the
booklet and insert design once again
expansively celebrate the cult of the
photogenic personality. There are about
a dozen photographs of the lissom Ms
Hahn in the booklet although, unlike
Ms Mutter on her CD, Ms Hahn’s image
does not appear on the CD. At least
Colin Davis gets more of a look-in in
the photography stakes than Previn on
the Mutter disc.
The LSO know Davis's
Elgar (plenty of evidence in the LSO Live!
series) and they give a roaringly vital,
grandly emphatic and truly urgent account.
Davis has developed into a very fine
Elgarian. I first heard Davis in Elgar
in a late night broadcast in the mid-1970s
in a tape of the Violin Concerto with
Salvatore Accardo. The orchestra then
was, I think, the Boston Symphony -
a memorable performance.
Can the elfin Hilary
Hahn breathe into the music the grief,
exultant joy and passion that this peculiarly
volatile and emotional music demands?
She can certainly deliver excitement
- the starry exultant blitz of notes
in the last three minutes of the concerto
are just superb. Her way with those
slowly produced notes at 16:02 in the
Allegro Molto makes me reconsider
my coolness but emotional mass is not
sustained ... at least by comparison
with Heifetz, Sammons and Bean. Ultimately
Hahn’s tone is slender when I prefer
an assurgent fullness in the sound and
a heavy animus. My ideal would almost
certainly be to have the Elgar concerto
played by David Oistrakh or Leonid Kogan.
Hahn sounds closer to Kyung-Wha Chung
than to either of those two giants.
Then again things do catch fire with
crushing effect as at 16:00 forward
in the first movement and at 9:00 onwards
in the finale.
What of the RVW Lark?
I have not heard all the variants and
have always wondered about Kennedy’s.
This one is warmer than the clinical
version by Pougnet but more detached
and cold than the classic recording
made by Hugh Bean in the 1970s with
Adrian Boult. Once again the orchestral
contribution is sensationally balanced
and recorded. The Lark has never
been so well and artistically served
by the technicians as by the DG team.
The recording has a
grandiloquent presence that adds crucially
to the favourable impact of this disc.
As an illustration, listen to the way
the squat punched-out chords slam down
at the end of the first movement of
the Elgar. At the other extreme the
floatingly diaphanous lightness of the
crooned orchestral strings in the Andante
is also rendered with a wondering
Once you can get past
the thickets of photography you will
find a good essay by Michael Steinberg.
Ultimately this is
an estimable Elgar concerto rather than
a consistently great one. It has in
it some of the nagging seeds of greatness
and repeat listenings may well change
my view. Hahn is a very fine artist
but she is in the debt of her orchestra,
conductor and DG recording team for
a version that made me want to return
to this disc again and again.
see also review
by Marc Bridle