This recording was recently reviewed
very enthusiastically by my colleague, Tim Perry in its download
format. Readers will notice that the heading to Tim's
review suggests he heard a different performance, given in
we now think that he was misled by packaging information relating
to the download and that, in fact, the performances are one
and the same. It's confusing, for example, that the booklet
illustrations are of the Miami concert performance given by
these artists on 13 February 2007
Shaham and Zinman toured their reading of the Elgar concerto
around North America and to London and Berlin at the time that
this recording was captured. I don't know at what stage
in the tour the performances from which this recording was edited
took place but the reading sounds to be settled and 'run
To get straight to the point, this is a very fine rendition
of the concerto. Is there a concerto in the repertoire that
is as subtle and as nuanced yet, at times, so noble and impassioned
as the Elgar? It seems to me that Shaham has the measure of
all these aspects of the work and, of course, the technical
armoury to enable him to surmount its manifold difficulties
with ease. In the first movement I was most impressed with the
way he delivers the many filigree passages as flights of fancy.
Just as impressive, however, are the reserves on which he's
able to draw in order to do justice to the Big Moments. He keeps
the music on the move and he's less inclined to ruminate
than, say, Nigel Kennedy in his first and very fine traversal
of the work (EMI). Tim Perry rightly draws attention to Shaham's
very first entry. This is often a crucial foretaste of the interpretation
to follow, as is the case here, I think. I'm quite not sure
I'd describe Shaham's entry as 'quietly understated'
as Tim does but it's certainly not as strongly projected
as Kennedy's nor, indeed, as that of Hugh Bean, a Sammons
pupil, on his still under-appreciated 1972 version.
The whole first movement is a delight in this recording and
I can't better Tim Perry's description of the playing.
As he notes, Shaham 'shapes each phrase of the solo line
with care and imaginative flair - now quietly ruminative, now
longing, now triumphantly extrovert.'
He's equally successful in the radiant slow movement, where
his playing is consistently delicate and poised. This is a beautifully
proportioned reading, excellently supported by Zinman and the
orchestra. Shaham's violin soars and sings beautifully and
with lyrical grace. He never seeks to milk the music but, on
the other hand, he doesn't play down the emotional content.
The quicksilver music in the finale is dispatched effortlessly.
There's virtuosity aplenty here but the more reflective
passages - of which there are more than a few - find Shaham
just as responsive to Elgar's requirements. One such example
is the few bars after 10:02, where the wistful, elegiac quality
of his playing strikes me as just right. The following cadenza
is not just marvellously played but superbly judged from an
Though the focus in a concerto is inevitably on the soloist,
the Elgar concerto is one of those in which the orchestra's
role is crucial to success. Lucky the soloist who has the backing
of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! Their playing for Shaham
is superb, both collectively and, in the case of the principals,
individually. Without quite effacing memories of Vernon Handley's
conducting for Kennedy - which combined sweep, attention to
detail and an innate understanding of Elgar style - David Zinman
proves himself to be an alert, sympathetic and stylish accompanist.
He has clearly forged a most effective and collaborative partnership
with his soloist.
The performance is captured in good, clear sound. The soloist
is forwardly placed - though not aggressively so - though I
slightly prefer the more integrated balance of the Kennedy recording,
though that was made under studio conditions, of course. The
audience is commendably silent - until the ovation at the end
- and although the recording picks up a few instances of what
I take to be foot stamping by Shaham, these are not in any way
intrusive. The excellent and authoritative notes are by Andrew
Neill, the recently retired Chairman of the Elgar Society.
The catalogue contains many fine versions of this marvellous
concerto. However this splendid recording by Gil Shaham now
joins the shortlist of top recommendations.
see also review by Tim Perry