OF THE MONTH
Dvorak Opera Premiere
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]*
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
Philip Moll (piano)*,
rec. 1977, 1987*. ADD/DDD* DECCA
LONDON 421 388 [57:10]
Edward ELGAR (1865-1934)
Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op.61 (1911) [48.48] Salut d'amour, Op.12 [3:02]
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.
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