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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin concerto in B minor Op.61 (1910)
In the South Alassio - Concert Overture Op.50 (1904)
Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 Op.39
Ilya Grubert (violin)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Ziva
Recorded in concert in Moscow, 29th October 2001
VISTA VERA VVCD 00048 [74.04]


The Russian School has often espoused the Elgar Violin Concerto, right from the days of the pioneering Michael Zacharewitsch in the teens and twenties, and Heifetz who, it’s often forgotten because of his much later recording, played it in New York as early as 1920 when he was barely nineteen. David Oistrakh performed it a number of times in his cycles of great violin concertos (perhaps a recording survives) but it fell to his son, Igor, to record it. Rising star Ilya Grubert, noted for his recent recordings of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, was taped playing the Concerto in concert in October 2001 when he was – I believe – the same age as Heifetz. It seems to have been Elgar Night in Moscow because we also get Alassio and Pomp and Circumstance No 1.

I have to admit a personal prejudice against lingering in this work. I suppose my idea of Purgatory is a performance that takes over fifty minutes and anything much over 46 minutes stretches my sympathy. For this doubtless Sammons and Heifetz (who went to consult Sammons on the concerto a few days before Heifetz’s 1949 recording) are to blame. Grubert takes just under the fifty-minute mark. As for the recording the acoustic is rather flat and the winds not sufficiently audible, certainly not pipy enough, and the percussion booms alarmingly. Whether it’s the recording or not it catches a somewhat edgy tone to Grubert’s playing and an occasionally over-sinewy vibrato. The performance is rather fitful and unconvincing. The slow, lurching orchestral introduction invariably means that the soloist’s first entry is not one that completes the orchestral phrase – as it should – but seems to embark on one of its own – which it shouldn’t. Some of the phrasing sounds rather forced and prosaic as well. The slow movement is however full of attractive lyricism even though there is a "by rote" quality to too much of Grubert’s playing and some questionable slowings down. The difficult finale – technically and architecturally – is vitiated by a lack of internal dynamism and momentum – the moments of untidiness are there but of more concern the rather unengaged nature of the playing. I suspect all concerned were learning their way into the work. I see Grubert is playing the concerto at this year’s 2004 Elgar Festival – it will be interesting to see how far he has come in the Concerto.

In the South (Alassio) is quite brisk – though no-one is as brisk as the composer himself in this work (he’s unstoppable). Conductor Vladimir Ziva pushes on here, in a way he perhaps might in the Concerto if left to his own devices. There is real vitality if some brusqueness in phrasing – the Canto Popolare for instance goes for little and the ending is a bit fudged. Pomp and Circumstance was presumably an encore. The recording sounds a little papery now but I’ve always liked the Arthur Bliss recording of the set – especially No.4.

A very uneven Elgar Night in Moscow.

Jonathan Woolf

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