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Edward ELGAR (1865-1934)
Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op.61 (1911) [49.38]
Salut d'amour, Op.12 [2:55]*
La Capricieuse, Op.17 [4:30]*
Kyung-Wha Chung (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
Philip Moll (piano)*,
rec. 1977, 1987*. ADD/DDD*
DECCA LONDON 421 388 [57:10]




Edward ELGAR
Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op.61 (1911) [48.48]
Salut d'amour, Op.12 [3:02]
Pinchas Zukerman (violin)
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
rec. 1993. DDD
BMG RCA RED SEAL RCA 61672 [51:58]

Although these recordings of Elgar's violin concerto remain available in Elgar bargain boxes from Decca and BMG respectively, their single disc incarnations have long been out of the catalogue. Arkiv's “on demand” service has now restored them to circulation. One of them is certainly worth its place in any fine Elgar collection. The other is redundant.
Kyung-Wha Chung recorded the Elgar concerto with Solti as part of his fascinating 1970s series of Elgar recordings, which included red-blooded and revelatory accounts of the two symphonies. Thirty years later, Solti's Elgar recordings remain consistently engaging and are a vital corrective to more “traditional” interpretations. His enthusiasm for Elgar is very much on display in this recording of the violin concerto. He whips up some excited playing from the orchestra in the tuttis, getting a great big blustery sound out of the LPO. Chung is also in fine form. Her tone is sweet and innocent, but she has plenty of power and heft where required.
The first movement begins with great energy, but Solti is not insensitive, and he shapes the orchestra's phrasing with care as Chung's first entry approaches. Her first notes are dark in colour, almost melancholic. Her phrasing stirs the orchestra to reply and comment on her statements and there is a real feeling of dialogue here. Though tempi are not swift, the sense of line is inexorable and at no point is there any loss of continuity or momentum. Solti rallies the orchestra in the tuttis and even an obvious cracked trumpet note 10:15 and a few stumbles from the brass in the following bars cannot dampen the energy and excitement of this performance.
The second movement is simply beautiful under Solti's baton and Chung's bow. Chung's range of tone colour is on full display here, at one moment firmly emphatic, the next whimsically nostalgic. It is impossible not to be swept along. Solti also gets wonderful gossamer textures from the LPO strings about 8 minutes into this movement. The finale is played with plenty of thrust and triumph. There is majesty here, and when Chung arrives at the cadenza, she plays it beautifully.
This is a performance of contrast – heart on sleeve intensity and inwardness. There is more extrovert passion here than you find with Hilary Hahn or Nigel Kennedy in his preferable first version with Handley. There is also much less wilfulness than in Kennedy's mercurial second recording with Rattle. In passionate expression, this account approaches Perlman's vastly underrated recording on Deutsche Grammophon, but still manages to sound British in a way that Perlman's account does not. The warm Decca analogue recording gives the performance a lovely bloom.
The two fillers are drawn from a recital disc dating from the late 1980s and are lightly and prettily played.
Zukerman's account of the concerto is less appealing. His accompanist, Leonard Slatkin, is no slouch as an Elgarian, and he shapes the orchestral accompaniment with an affectionate hand. The recording has a realistic presence, warm and clear, and the lower brass emerge beautifully. Zukerman, however, seems disengaged and uninterested. His technique is fine, and every note is there, but it all sounds so mannered. His vibrato is wide and weeping, his dynamic range constricted and his tempi slow. There is little of the inwardness you get from performances in the Sammons/Menuhin tradition – the “This is the great British violin concerto” tradition, with exponents including Kennedy, Bean and Chung. Nor does he play with the clean unfussiness of the Heifetz tradition – the “This is another of the great Romantic violin concertos” tradition, with exponents including Perlman, Hahn and Zukerman himself in an earlier guise.
Zukerman's playing in the first movement lacks momentum and flow. There is a cloying stickiness to his tone and moments of flashy violin writing that usually get the pulse racing – like the little flourishes at 15:40 into the movement – are taken at a risk-free plod. The second movement can be so magical, hushed and inward but intense. Here it is faceless, despite some glorious playing from the St Louis strings. The finale does not rally and the famous cadenza is slow, fragmented and unimpressive. Put simply, this is a boring performance. There are occasional moments of beauty from Zukerman in the slow movement and the finale, but by the time you get to them all interest has evaporated.
Zukerman's account feels slow, much too slow. That is not to say that he actually is slower than the competition. Putting the brilliant and swift Heifetz account to one side, Zukerman takes less time over each movement than Hahn, Menuhin and Kennedy (both times). Comparing his track track timings to Chung's, it would again seem that Zukerman is the swifter of the two. He takes 17:28 in the first movement to Chung's 18:02, 11:46 in the slow movement to Chung's 12:30. Only in the final movement is he slower, at 19:23 to Chung's 18:54. It is consistently Zukerman who feels slower, though, and the reason for this is tempo variation. In Zukerman's account with Slatkin there is hardly any. The performance just plods along. Solti and Chung – and indeed all of the other performances listed above – are more mercurial, taking the blustery passages at a good clip and allowing more contemplative sections more time.
Zukerman's filler, the Salut d'amour, is pretty but marred by the same mannerisms that spoil the concerto. The decision to play the piece with orchestral accompaniment rather than piano is also an odd one. This is salon music, pure and simple, and full orchestra gives the pretty ditty airs and graces it cannot carry. As a whole, this disc is one to lay down and avoid.
Neither disc comes with liner-notes, but chances are if you want either of these recordings it is to supplement other recordings in your collection.
For Chung’s poetry and Solti’s energetic accompaniment, the Decca recording is worth adding to your collection. The Zukerman, on the other hand, is for the violinist’s most ardent fans only. And they would be better served by his earlier account on Sony.
Tim Perry


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