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Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) The Kingdom, Op. 51 – Prelude (1905) [9:31]
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (1910) [48:03] The Dream of Gerontius – Prelude and The Angel’s Farewell
Thomas Zehetmair (violin); Alice Coote (mezzo)
Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder
rec. Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23 March 2005 (Kingdom), 3-4
May 2008 (Concerto) and 15-19 July 2008 (Gerontius)
HALLE CD HLL 7521 [74:54]
Exponents of the Elgar Violin Concerto on disc now run from
A-Z. Those therefore of a singular mind can consider the options
from Accardo to Znaider, and note the appearance of the latest
entrant, Thomas Zehetmair, whose recording has been issued almost
concurrently with that of Znaider.
It was recorded in May 2008 with the Hallé and Mark Elder. Timings
tell only a partial story but this one is broadly centrist,
being neither as lithe as the fastest (Heifetz and Sammons)
nor as leisurely as Kennedy’s second traversal with Rattle,
or Haendel with Boult. Orchestral detail is precisely calibrated,
from the slightly fussy over-articulation in the orchestral
introduction to the wind colour throughout, or the brass blocks.
Rubati are strongly in aural evidence, Elder picking up on Zehetmair’s
fondness for stretching phrases. Zehetmair does not have a big
tone – one can hear a slight struggle to project in tuttis –
and it’s not especially variegated in colour so he relies on
subtle shifts and intensifying expressive devices – subtleties
of bowing and articulation, perceptive dynamics, especially
pianissimi. There’s therefore depth to the Windflower theme
during which, fortunately, orchestral counter-themes are not
allowed to sag, as they do in other well known performances.
Not unlike Daniel Hope, Zehetmair is unafraid to coarsen his
tone if it’s in the interests of the musical argument but he
struggles at the conclusion of the first movement where the
strenuous passagework finds his tone scratchy and unconvincing.
In mitigation he doesn’t over-vibrate in the slow movement.
With atmospheric orchestral support he pursues a line of melancholy
wistfulness neither over-emoted - Kennedy’s second recording,
likewise Zukerman’s remake - nor coolly unresponsive, as per
Hilary Hahn. There are a very few ungainly moments in the finale,
where phrases are awkwardly, unidiomatically shaped but the
accompanied cadenza is intelligently realised, though perhaps
wanting the ultimate in poetic intensity. The finale also lacks
an overwhelming punch. I’d like to hear Znaider’s own recent
recording to compare and contrast the two, but what I can say
is that Zehetmair’s unopulent, somewhat wiry approach has a
Szigeti-like integrity. Given that Tasmin Little has not been
asked to set down her performance on disc (why not?) and that
Vadim Repin hasn’t played it publicly, to the best of my knowledge,
one wonders who will be next to record it.
The Prelude to The Kingdom is movingly conveyed, with
strong bass ballast, and themes presented and clarified with
assurance and noble tread. The Hallé’s internal balances are
indeed first class and it makes one wonder if Elder and this
label have plans for a complete recording. The Gerontius
they gave us some while back is an index of the precision and
clarity imparted to the score by the orchestral forces. Here
we have a Tristanesque Prelude and The Angel’s Farewell in
Elgar’s own 1900 arrangement to satisfy the demand of Henry
Wood who wanted to play parts of the work in purely orchestral
form. Elgar premiered this arrangement in February 1901 and
Wood soon followed him, albeit with the Angel’s part re-instated.
Here, in this recording, we have the Wood solution, which allows
one to hear Alice Coote’s highly sympathetic interpretation.
Without the full recording to hand I am not sure if this is
taken directly from the complete Gerontius recording,
though given the same recording dates one would think these
must be the same. Jonathan Woolf
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