Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Kingdom, Op. 51 Ė Prelude (1905) [9:31]
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 (1910) [48:03]
The Dream of Gerontius Ė Prelude and The Angelís Farewell (1900) [17:21]
Thomas Zehetmair (violin); Alice Coote (mezzo)
Hallť 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 Hallť 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 Kennedyís 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 Zehetmairís fondness for stretching phrases. Zehetmair does not have a big tone Ė one can hear a slight struggle to project in tuttis Ė and itís not especially variegated in colour so he relies on subtle shifts and intensifying expressive devices Ė subtleties of bowing and articulation, perceptive dynamics, especially pianissimi. Thereís 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 itís 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 doesnít over-vibrate in the slow movement. With atmospheric orchestral support he pursues a line of melancholy wistfulness neither over-emoted - Kennedyís second recording, likewise Zukermanís 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. Iíd like to hear Znaiderís own recent recording to compare and contrast the two, but what I can say is that Zehetmairís 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 hasnít 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 Hallťís 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 Angelís Farewell in Elgarís 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 Angelís part re-instated. Here, in this recording, we have the Wood solution, which allows one to hear Alice Cooteís 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

Zehetmairís unopulent, somewhat wiry approach has a Szigeti-like integrity ... see Full Review