‘Ultimate Campoli’. Ultimate Campoli? The
first is the title of this disc. The second is my question.
Can there be an ultimate Campoli disc, given that he recorded
so much and also that Beulah is such a welcome proponent for
his discs and his memory. If they’re suggesting that this
coupling is the ne plus ultra of Campoli recordings,
that’s a big punt. Best to look at it, I think, as a handy
way of separating discs from their Campoli stable, the better
to stand out in the marketplace.
["Ultimate" refers to the fact this
is Beulah's last Campoli issue, according to the website. -
Certainly the Mendelssohn was his signature dish. He played
it hundreds of times, both with orchestra and with piano accompaniment
in recitals, as was the norm in the early days of his classical
career. He had earlier recorded it with van Beinum in 1949 (also
on Beulah - see review),
in a much admired reading on 78s, but this later one in 1958
‘binaural’ was no less admired. Boult, that distinguished
accompanist, was on hand. Campoli’s tone is deliciously
sweet and he has typically interesting ideas in the passagework
- especially in the first movement cadenza, which if you’re
unfamiliar with his way with it, you should certainly hear.
As ever the slow movement is the heart of things, with affectionate
lyricism always to the fore. Perhaps the orchestra is a touch
too recessed for a full and expansive engagement with the solo
line but it doesn’t really matter. The finale is poised,
fluent and fleet - but not flashily so.
The Scottish Fantasy was a work Campoli only recorded
once, and he was better known - as everyone is, I suppose -
in the G minor. Here the cymbals and harp are nicely audible
but sometimes there’s a touch of swamping in the sound
- notably the winds. Campoli is an expressive host, warmly moulding
the ‘MacBruch’ tunes to delightful effect. The scherzo
is played with pure panache and there are some lovely diminuendi
in the Andante sostenuto. If it’s not as personalised
and intense as Heifetz - and whose performance is? - it’s
nevertheless a lovely souvenir of Campoli’s way in the
central romantic repertoire. The virtuosic status is maintained
in the two Saint-Saëns warhorses. These were recorded in
1953 with Fistoulari on hand. They get a rather over-bright
recording but the playing has polish, freshness and they both
suit the violinist’s extrovert temperament nicely. He
was without doubt the most dashing British violinist of his
generation, if we except the mercurial but restless Philip Newman.
Ultimate Campoli? Forget the persiflage. This is just damn good
Campoli - a player of charm, personality, technical eloquence
and hugely musical instincts. Now let’s get some of his
broadcast performances out of the attic.