> Edward Elgar - Arthur Bliss [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto *
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)

Theme and Cadenza for solo violin and orchestra +
Introduction and Allegro
Alfredo Campoli, violin
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult *
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arthur Bliss +
Recorded 1955 (Elgar) 1956 (Bliss)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 461 353-2 [63.52]


The Elgar Concerto has fared well on disc. There are very few poor performances and a number that have, on their own terms, real merit. At the peak stands the Sammons Ė newly reissued on Naxos Ė and it will be interesting to see if this latest appearance deals with the persistent pitch transfer problems that have bedevilled its various incarnations. Somewhat hors de combat is the Menuhin-Elgar. Hugh Beanís performance is profoundly attractive as is this Campoli reissue, which dates from 1955 and is one of the most outstanding recordings ever made of the concerto.

Though the sound can be a little papery in places nothing can dim the masterly exposition of the orchestral introduction by Boult, a far more eloquent traversal than those he was able to offer the disappointing Menuhin, in his second recording, or the impossibly sluggish Ida Haendel. He is especially successful at bringing out the wind writing, superbly weighted and proportionate to the orchestral canvas, and each sectional incident is blazingly well realised. Campoliís entrance is reflective but not over lingering in the modern manner and which can be so disruptive to the syntax of the musical argument. He employs some judicious expressive devices to heighten his playing. At 6í00 the orchestral counter theme to his solo line is movingly audible even at Campoliís slowing tempo Ė compare and contrast with such as Nigel Kennedy where the necessary backbone is entirely missing and nonsense is made of Elgarís orchestration. Campoli makes the most elegant and apposite of slides at 11í01 Ė quick, lyrical, with just the right weight and speed. Boultís control of orchestral dynamics from 14í30 Ė readying for the subsequent orchestral outburst Ė is but one example of his elevated level of conducting. Campoliís passagework comes under a little strain here and at 16í15 I felt the imposed strain by Campoli to be a little forced and impeding to the flow toward the summit of the movement. He just doesnít sweep forward enough. But it is an internally consistent view of the movement and one that commands respect.

The slow movement is deeply expressive and fluent; it tends to show up performances (such as, say, Heifetzís), which fail to maintain a proper balance between momentum and expressivity. Campoliís tone is ardent without over emoting. The finale is of a piece with the other movements; Boultís conducting is alert and sympathetic and Campoliís surmounting of the fiendish technical demands - which is not, in truth, absolute - is still outstandingly good. Itís only when one compares Campoli with Sammons that the breathtaking control of the latter makes Campoli seem just a little staid. There is again not the onward rush and sweep of the Sammons performance; there is not the sense of an unstoppable momentum, the big tone leading a galvanized orchestra to the final triumphant chords. Nevertheless this is a most distinguished recording; putting aside Sammons and Menuhin it is my preferred choice, just ahead of Bean, and I can pay Campoli no greater compliment than to say that his tonal beauty, his awareness of structure and the dictates of architectural compromise, are of the highest quality and this performance is testament to his stature as a great violinist.

The coupling is cannily chosen given Campoliís close association with Arthur Bliss. He was the dedicatee of the Violin concerto, which he recorded and of which he gave some famous Russian performances on tour with the composer. The Theme and cadenza for solo violin and orchestra is a lyrical and beautifully played piece derived from incidental music composed for a 1945 BBC production of a radio play by Blissí wife, Trudy. Bliss also conducts an infectious performance of his 1926 Introduction and Allegro (revised 1937), composed for Stokowskiís Philadelphians. Bustling, inventive, rhythmically propulsive with superb wind writing and juddering strings it makes a resounding finale to a significant and unreservedly recommendable disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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