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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (1910) [45.26]
Recorded 28/29 Oct 1954, Kingsway Hall
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor Op.64 (1844) [26.15]
Recorded 1949 in the Kingsway Hall, London††
Alfredo Campoli (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Adrian Boult (Elgar)
Eduard van Beinum (Mendelssohn)
BEULAH 4PD10 [73.30]

 

Beulah is back and this is one of the first of their revivified catalogue to hit the racks. Itís an old friend Ė the Elgar and Mendelssohn concertos familiar from Beulah IPD10 of old; or, rather, it isnít. The Elgar remains the same but that earlier release transferred Campoliís 1958 recording of the Mendelssohn conducted by Boult. Here we have the 78 set from 1949 with van Beinum. Collectors will note that this has also been transferred by Dutton on an all-Campoli disc, and that the Elgar is out on Decca Eloquence from Australia coupled with the Bliss Theme and Cadenza (and the Introduction and Allegro) from 1956.

In the Elgar, whilst 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 slidesĖ 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, sometimes 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, Heifetz or Perlman that the breathtaking control of the latter trio 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; 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.

His Mendelssohn needs rather less explication. As we know from his later recording with Boult the watchwords of Campoliís Mendelssohn are purity and sweetness of tone and intonation and a selfless and unhurried generosity of music making. Campoli takes care over precise articulation and bowing, and his lyric sweetness is accompanied by a warm-hearted purity. Thereís no undue pressure in the finale but equally no sense that this is undernourished or lacking bravura, when called upon. Van Beinum brings some fine architectural support Ė especially good with the lower strings in the tuttis.

Now for the transfers. In the Elgar the Decca Eloquence is mellower and smoother, less abrasive. This Beulah has a rather raw, direct, rather papery sound; brittle in a word. That said the orchestral pizzicati really ping out in the first movement as do the wind solos and the rather thin LPO string sound is honestly caught. And with the rawness of sound comes clarity of detail so if youíre used to the upholstery of the Decca the bucket seat of the Beulah will come as a bracing alternative. As for the Mendelssohn the Dutton has, like the Elgar Philips, a more veiled sound Ė very congenial but with a slight loss of treble in suppressing the Decca hiss. Beulah is more vibrant and up-front, and has more air around it.

Whichever you choose you will be assured of some splendid musicianship. Neither could possibly be a first recommendation, for obvious reasons, but as ancillary library choices they have withstood the ravages of time, technological advance and successive critical judgements with lasting assurance.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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