As 2010 sees the centenary of the première of Elgar’s
Violin Concerto, it is only right and fitting that we
should have a new recording, and one made by one of today’s
major artists and beloved personalities. And there is probably
nobody better suited, or more attuned, to Elgar’s style
than Sir Andrew Davis, who, over the years of his tenure as
Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, grew in stature
as an Elgar interpreter and is now an Elgarian of some authority.
So all bodes well for this new recording.
Sir Andrew delivers a fine opening tutti, strong and purposeful,
allowing the music to speak, displaying a superb handling of
the transition to the second theme, and then carefully prepares
for the entrance of the soloist. Ms Little’s entry is
resolute but not overplayed, but here I am immediately faced
with a problem which worried me throughout the performance.
In the passagework, and sections of bravura writing, Ms Little
is superb, throwing caution to the wind and really letting go,
relishing the challenge to show her fabulous technique, but
always in the service of the music. In slower music, however,
such as her initial entry and in much of the slow movement she
employs a very fast vibrato which I find annoying and which
grates on my ear - I should say that it will not bother many
people, but, as with singers, I find this approach to the detriment
of the music. The line feels to be unclear - a good example
of this comes at 4:22 in the slow movement, where a more direct
approach would have been welcome. After a while it just sounds
fussy, and it annoys me in the same way as someone who giggles
every time after making a comment.
Having said all that, I must point out that this is purely my
feeling concerning interpretation and performance and not everyone,
especially Ms Little’s many fans, will agree with me.
I am sure that what I see as the overuse of vibrato won’t
bother the majority of people who buy this disk. But I mention
it for it is very important and in a work of this length there’s
a lot of it!
I do feel that Chandos should have reconsidered calling what
follows an Alternative Cadenza for the Violin Concerto
for it is nothing of the sort. Elgar was one of the first composers
to realise the importance of recording his own music and was
a willing visitor to the recording studios from 1913 onwards.
In 1916 he undertook a recording of the Violin Concerto
with Marie Hall, whom he had taught in the 1890s, and, because
of the playing time of the discs, and the length of the Concerto,
he cut it down to 12 minutes, with each movement occupying one
side of a 78rpm disc and the cadenza allotted a side all to
itself. Realising that the “thrummed” accompaniment
he had created would be almost inaudible on the primitive record
he rewrote it adding a harp. Thus, this version was born of
necessity and was never intended as an alternative to the cadenza
in the Concerto, nor was it intended to be used more
than on this single occasion. This truth is proven by the fact
that the materials used in 1916 no longer exist, and it has
had to be reconstructed by listening to the recording and writing
it down afresh. Does it add anything to our knowledge of the
work? No. Should it be on this disk? It’s unnecessary,
but it makes an interesting sidelight on Elgar’s ingenuity
The Interlude from The Crown of India music is an unpretentious
miniature for violin and small orchestra, and it’s very
pleasant. Polonia is a meatier piece. Based on Polish
themes, it was written for a concert for the Polish Victims
Relief Fund, and it’s an occasional piece but not a particularly
significant work. Its virtues lie in the fact that it is entertaining,
fun and shows Elgar’s sure hand as an orchestrator. This
is a very high powered account of the music and it is very exciting.
A rather subtler account was issued with the BBC Northern Symphony
Orchestra under Andrzej Panufnik from a live performance of
September 1978, coupled with a splendid live 1986 performance
of the Violin Concerto by Ida Haendel and John Pritchard,
on a long deleted BBC Carlton Classics disk, which is well worth
seeking out (15656 91942).
Throughout, Sir Andrew draws fine playing from the Scottish
Orchestra and their contribution is most satisfying. The recording
is stunning in its clarity and brightness, and the notes are
full and informative. Despite my personal reservations concerning
Ms Little’s use of vibrato, there is no doubt in my mind
that this recording will give pleasure to many, but it doesn’t
add anything to our understanding of the work.
is enshrined the soul of ..... A centenary
appreciation of Elgar's Violin Concerto by Patrick